Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Jeremy Bruer has said Bangladesh and Australia need to redouble their efforts to ensure that the two countries can take advantage of new opportunities in trade and investment as the world begins to recover from the fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In Australia and Bangladesh, economic recovery will depend on a strong business sector," he told UNB in an interview.
The High Commission who previously served as Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar said it will be important for Bangladesh to attract more foreign direct investment (FDI) to help its economy adapt and expand.
In his first interview with any media in Bangladesh, Bruer said Australia and Bangladesh are working together to identify sectors in which Australian businesses can invest, including information and communications technology (ICT) and e-commerce.
Beyond that, he said, there may also be opportunities in agri-business, education and mining exploration.
"As both countries face the huge challenges involved in recovering from the pandemic, I want to ensure that the strong links between our two countries — in business and trade, education, culture, in regional and multilateral fora and sustainable development — continue to grow," said High Commissioner Bruer.
Responding to a question, the Australian High Commissioner said the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on all countries.
But the strong bilateral and people-to-people links between Australia and Bangladesh will endure, said the envoy who presented credentials to President Abul Hamid in February 20 this year.
The Australian envoy thinks it will take time to understand the pandemic's full impact.
It will also take time to comprehend fully the opportunities presented by the crisis, he said adding that they will continue to look for ways to strengthen the bilateral relationship through innovation and cooperation.
Australia was one of the first countries – and the first in the developed world – to recognise Bangladesh's independence.
Till date, the High Commissioner said, relations between the two nations remain warm and mutually beneficial. "We'll remain partners in business and trade, education, culture, in regional and multilateral fora and sustainable development," Bruer said.
Australia said it is committed to supporting Bangladesh, including during the pandemic.
"We provided immediate support through our trusted partners WFP, UNDP and BRAC," said the High Commissioner.
Bruer said Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne recently announced Australia's new development strategy, 'Partnerships for Recovery', to make sure development cooperation remains well placed to contribute to a stable, prosperous, resilient Indo-Pacific following Covid-19.
The Australian envoy said Australia will continue to work with Bangladesh to support development needs in the areas of health security, stability and economic recovery, with a focus on protecting the most vulnerable, especially women and girls
RMG & Strong Reputation
High Commissioner Bruer said Bangladesh's readymade garments (RMG) sector, which has built a strong global reputation over the past decade, has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19.
The Australian government has provided targeted assistance to Australian businesses during COVID-19 to support their recovery, including maintaining international trade with countries such as Bangladesh, he said.
"We understand that some Australian companies have worked positively with their suppliers in Bangladesh to navigate mutual challenges they may have encountered," said the High Commissioner.
RMG exports orders, worth over US$ billion, to various countries were cancelled or held up in the first few months of the pandemic and the exporters got back some of the cancelled orders amid negotiations.
Bangabandhu's Birth Centenary
The High Commissioner said he is delighted that his term as Australian High Commissioner coincides with some important milestones in the history of Bangladesh, and in the relationship between Australia and Bangladesh.
"Of course, this year we're celebrating the centenary of the birth of (Bangabandhu) Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh's 'Father of the Nation'. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's independence, followed in 2022 by the 50 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and Bangladesh," he said.
Unfortunately, the envoy said, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected celebrations this year.
"But I look forward to marking these milestones as circumstances allow," Bruer said.
The newly appointed Australian High Commissioner said he is committed to the partnership between Australia and Bangladesh in humanitarian and disaster response.
Australia has provided AUD190 million since 2017 to support the Bangladeshi host community and Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar.
"Since the outbreak of the pandemic, we've drawn on our existing humanitarian partnerships and provided additional funding to support the Covid-19 response," said the High Commissioner.
For example, Bruer said, they have supported the construction of isolation and treatment facilities, expansion of water, sanitation and hygiene services, and delivery of health messaging.
"We are also increasing efforts to support protection for women and girls, who face additional risks from Covid-19," he said.
Bruer said they are continuing to meet Rohingya refugees' basic needs, such as food assistance, shelter and nutrition through UN agencies, BRAC and Australian NGOs.
High Commissioner Bruer said people-to-people links have always been the foundation of relationship between Bangladesh and Australia.
From William Ouderland Bir Pratik, who made an important contribution to Bangladesh's Liberation War, and was the only foreigner to receive this important Bangladeshi award for gallantry, to Richard Casey, former Governor of Bengal and Governor-General of Australia, Australians have been part of the story of Bengal and Bangladesh, he recalled.
Similarly, Bruer said, Bangladeshis make up an increasingly important and valued part of Australia's diverse society.
Australia's commitment to human rights is deep-seated and well-established, said the High Commissioner. "We were an original signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948."
He said they work bilaterally with countries, including Bangladesh, to advance and protect human rights through development assistance and humanitarian support.
The envoy said Australia is committed to a strong multilateral human rights system.
As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (2018–2020), Bruer said, they have focused on freedom of expression, gender equality, good governance, the rights of indigenous peoples, and strong national human rights institutions and capacity building.
"We've also been guided by other core objectives: the abolition of the death penalty; equal human rights for sexual and gender diverse people; and freedom of religion and belief," the High Commissioner mentioned.
The High Commissioner said they look forward to welcoming international students back to their world-class educational institutions, in a safe and enjoyable environment, when their borders reopen.
On average, around six-to-seven thousand Bangladeshis study in Australia each year.
"But there's a scope for still more Bangladeshi students and young professionals to benefit from Australian education and training," Bruer said.
The envoy said they hope to see Australian universities developing even stronger relationship with Bangladesh government ministries and institutions.
"We will keep providing Australia Awards scholarships for master's degrees and targeted short courses on priority topics, such as international trade and women in leadership," he said.
Since his arrival in Bangladesh, the High Commissioner said, Bangladesh's diverse communities and fascinating history have made a deep impression on him.
"I hope, I'll be able to continue to improve my understanding of this beautiful country and its rich history and culture, and to meet people throughout the country, from all walks of life," Bruer said.
The High Commissioner said he looks forward to helping Bangladeshis learn more about Australia. "This includes promoting understanding of Australia's diverse cultures, including our rich indigenous heritage."