On President Berset's visit

Mir Mostafizur Rahaman | Published: February 10, 2018 00:00:06

Switzerland has all the elements to generate envy among other nations. It is a heaven of democracy, governance and integrity where rule of law reigns supreme. On the other hand, as a nation the Swiss can boast of all the good virtues homo sapience can possess -- they are peaceful, honest, benevolent to others, law abiding, creative and hard working. The Swiss are very much respected throughout the world for these virtues.

So the just concluded visit of the President of Swiss Confederation Alain Berset to Bangladesh is considered as a very significant development by the foreign relations experts in the midst of Bangladesh's hectic efforts to put pressure on Myanmar for addressing the Rohingya crisis.

It is believed that Berset's visit would make Bangladesh's moral fight for the cause of thousands of Rohingyas stronger. Over 0.7 million Rohingyas were forced to flee their native homes in Rakhine state of Myanmar due to the unprecedented brutality unleashed by the Myanmar security apparatus.

During his four-day visit time and again President Berset who himself is an expert on migration issue, clearly spelled out the stance of the people of his country as he said, a refugee crisis of this magnitude has put Bangladesh and the international community under enormous pressure to provide urgent services to more than 650,000 people and to that effect, Switzerland has been closely working with Bangladesh, UN agencies, and other development partners.

He also extended his appreciation to Bangladesh for the enormous efforts being undertaken to welcome and shelter the ethnic Rohingya minority. He also called for the full implementation of the report of the Advisory Commission chaired by Kofi Annan. Thus the Swiss president clearly exhibited his country's support for Bangladesh on the Rohingya issue.

Apart from the issue of Rohingyas, there are other areas where Bangladesh can enormously benefit from. For example, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a unique opportunity to build new global partnerships between the two countries and during his visit both the countries agreed to conclude a framework MoU (memorandum of understanding) on collaboration on matters related to the implementation of Agenda 2030 in near future. Besides, a joint declaration identifying the key areas for broader cooperation between the two countries was issued and both sides agreed to ask their respective authorities to develop a roadmap for the implementation of the joint undertakings in a time-bound manner.

The deep ties between the two countries should be translated into economic benefits for both. Here President Berset gave the cue by saying it is my firm belief that the Swiss-Bangladeshi trade and investment will reach new heights in the future. "We look forward to a continued partnership, based on mutual trust and a shared vision for the future".

Though the trade volume between Switzerland and Bangladesh has more than doubled in the last 7 years, there is a scope for huge growth here as the exchange of goods between Switzerland and Bangladesh still remains limited. The trade volume in 2016 amounted to CHF 591.5 million with exports to Bangladesh accounting for CHF 151.8 million and imports from Bangladesh accounting for CHF 439.6 million. Main export products from Switzerland are machinery for the textile sector, the rest being pharmaceuticals and chemical items. Textiles and ready-made garments are representing more than 90 per cent of the imports from Bangladesh.

At present, around 100 Swiss companies are either present or represented by agents in Bangladesh. The positive image of the Swiss firms can be a vital tool for Bangladesh for luring foreign investment from other countries as almost all top Swiss multinational companies are present in Bangladesh continuously expanding their portfolio.

Swiss investments in Bangladesh are mainly concentrated in the following sectors: chemicals, pharmaceuticals, construction, technical services and food sectors in Bangladesh.

Swiss investments inflow to Bangladesh during the fiscal year 2015-2016 stood at USD 29.90 million marking a 17 per cent growth over the previous year, says a Bangladesh Bank report which added that the FDI stock from Switzerland for the period 2010- 2015/16 stood at USD 78.23 million.

President Berset also pointed out the areas where both the countries can work more closely to get mutual economic benefit, as he said Switzerland is keen on continuing as a partner of the government of Bangladesh, the private sector and civil society organisations.

He also pledged to support Bangladesh's efforts in improving the business climate, legal security and the need for a sustainable business environment, including respect for human rights.

During the visit high-powered business delegations from both countries exchanged views in the first-ever high-level Bangladesh-Swiss Business and Investment Forum in Dhaka which is also an encouraging development to consolidate trade ties between the two countries.

So Berset's visit will definitely have a long-lasting positive impact on both the issues -Rohingya crisis and mutual economic cooperation. Bangladesh should be proactive to exploit this opportunity considering the fact that the Swiss are a time-tested friend of Bangladesh and Switzerland was among the few countries that recognised the country's independence in March, 1972.

The country has a lot of things to learn from the Swiss. Their practice of democracy is unique where a single person is not vested with supreme power. The country is run by a 7-member federal council which is directly elected by the parliament and these members are given the task of holding the chair of the President of the country for one year by rotation. President Berset, a Phd in economics, is the youngest president of the country since 1934.

Perhaps the beauty of the Swiss democratic and social system impressed Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman also. Maybe, that is why Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, after her meeting with the Swiss President, rightly recalled that  her father looked at Switzerland as a model and wanted to develop Bangladesh as the 'Switzerland of the East'."


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