EU-Bangladesh relations now go beyond assistance, says Ambassador Mayaudon

The outgoing ambassador of the European Union has said that the 28-country bloc’s relations with Bangladesh have now grown beyond assistance.

Nurul Islam
Published : 21 August 2017, 02:22 PM
Updated : 21 August 2017, 08:19 PM

“The time of assistance is behind. We have a new vision in the relations between EU and Bangladesh. Its relations between partners,” Pierre Mayaudon said in an exclusive interview with on Monday as he prepares to leave his Dhaka post shortly.

“We have started discussing new aspects of relationships including such field which was never before on the agenda,” he said, citing science, technology, space applications, and blue economy as new generation agendas.

During the interview, Mayaudon took questions on contemporary issues including general elections, security measures after the terrorist attacks, EU’s role in Bangladesh, trade, investment and global migration crisis.

"I'll certainly say many good things. I would say that Bangladeshis are the Europeans of Asia, that’s why we have such good relationships."

The ambassador joined Dhaka office in October, 2014 amid volatile political situation in the wake of general elections which major opposition BNP sat out.

Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque in the farewell meeting had lauded Mayaudon’s role, saying that he played “constructive role” in taking EU-Bangladesh relations to a “newer height”.

“I tried to bring some new topics in areas after I had noticed that something is missing. There is a vacuum. The relationship, to some extent, is still shaped and guided by what Bangladesh was 20 years ago, not what Bangladesh is in 2017.

“That we had to revisit, but not of course each and every sector, we have massive programmes of development assistance to Bangladesh and it is actually second only to Afghanistan in all across Asia and the Pacific region,” he said.

He had taken a different approach to get maximum benefits. Instead of funding only projects, during his time, the EU started giving priorities to the strategic sector to help the government.

Education is one such sector to which they would allocate maximum resources. The ambassador said soon this will be joined by skills development.

He also contributed to broadening the economic agenda and setting up of ‘EU business council’ and ‘EU-Bangladesh business council dialogue’ to lure in European investments.

Promotion of trade engagement in a broader sense for him is a “manifestation of Bangladesh prosperity”.

With the EU, the trade was all about readymade garments. But after the Rana Palza building collapse, the ambassador said they thought how positively they can contribute in the betterment of RMG industry and other sectors of the economy.

They rolled out Sustainability Compact for ensuring factory safety and labour rights. “We have witnessed significant progress.”

The EU is the largest trading partner of Bangladesh where all products enjoy duty-free market access.

But it was mostly Bangladesh’s exports. The head of the EU delegation took an ambitious step that has translated into setting up of the new entity of EU business council with an idea to woo EU businesses in Bangladesh.

“This is not for European business to take undue advantage of Bangladesh’s economic development. This is also to contribute to Bangladesh in a way that is beneficial to Bangladesh’s economy.

“Your country is in high need of FDI. We consider rightly that more EU investment in your country is a good thing for Bangladeshi economy and for the people of Bangladesh.”

He said “we have started working for the last two years” to get more FDI.

As Bangladesh is going to graduate as a middle-income country, the duty-free market access privilege in the EU will be curtailed. Then Bangladesh will have to qualify to get the GSP Plus privilege for sending duty-free goods.

The ambassador said the preparations should start now.

“Absolutely, Bangladesh should start preparation. It’s a long process.” He said GSP Plus privilege will allow duty and quota-free access of Bangladesh’s 90 percent tariff line where the garment industry is included.

“But for that benefit any country must fulfill a series of conditions including having to ratify and properly implement 27 UN core conventions on human rights, labour rights, governance and environment.”

Dealing with illegal migration from Bangladeshi is a new issue. Brussels has even threatened Dhaka with restricting visa if Bangladesh does not take back its undocumented citizens from the member countries.

The government says it will do everything to bring them back, and the process of establishing a ‘standard operating procedure’ for that is underway.

Ambassador Mayaudon said their dialogue with the government is on “all aspects of migration management” and added they do not have the exact number of illegal Bangladeshis staying in Europe.

However, he said, they have witnessed a growing number of Bangladesh nationals were risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean sea, particularly from Libya, to reach Europe, especially Italy.

“The figure is quite alarming,” he said.

In 2015, there was no Bangladeshi among the illegal boat people. But the next year, the number was slightly more than 8,000 while in the first six months of this year, the figure has already reached 8,000.

“So we are very much concerned about that.”

The 28 member countries of the European Union issue 20,000 resident permits to Bangladeshis on an average every year.

He said they would take a “holistic approach” so that even after coming back, illegal migrants can be rehabilitated in Bangladesh.

The repatriation process would happen after those illegal Bangladeshis exhaust all the legal procedures in the European countries they are staying in.

“Bangladesh is not a country in war or crisis,” he said in a bid to discourage Bangladeshis to take the illegal route to enter Europe.

The ambassador is happy that during his assignment, he could “preciously unturn quite a number of stones”.

“Maybe the impacts could not so easily perceived, but in the longer term the people of Bangladesh and the people of Europe as well will benefit from those initiatives including innovation, research, and technologies.”

“We can be partners and we can have a common journey,” Mayaudon remarked. “I am glad that I could start this journey.”

And what would he say about Bangladesh after leaving Dhaka?

“I’ll certainly say many good things. I would say that Bangladeshis are the Europeans of Asia, that’s why we have such good relationships.”