Bangladesh will not face a changed tariff or duty regime in Australia even after graduating to a middle income country.
In a visit to The Business Standard offices on Monday, Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Jeremy Bruer confirmed that there were no plans to change the zero-duty structure Bangladesh currently enjoys even after graduation, but said it was up to Bangladesh to remain competitive by ensuring its capacity to do so.
Terming the bilateral relationship between the two countries good, he said there was potential for it to grow even further.
"Trade between the two countries had grown 550% before Covid-19. I don't have good figures on the situation after Covid, but the rate and amount of growth is very encouraging and good," he said.
Bangladesh-Australia bilateral trade has grown six times over the past decade, reaching $1.90 billion (A$2.6 billion) last year. The RMG, agriculture, food, and education services were key drivers of this growth.
Saying Australia recognised Bangladesh's extraordinary development achievement over the past 20 years or so, he added, "We have signed Tifa [Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement] with Bangladesh to discuss issues of mutual interest on the trade and investment sides. We have an annual meeting of senior officers under Tifa, where we can discuss a whole range of issues which will hopefully end with increased trade and increased investment, in both directions."
Bangladesh and Australia signed the Tifa agreement, the first of its kind between the two countries, in September 2021, with the framework expected to serve as a platform for institutional economic interaction and open new opportunities for trade and investment between the two countries.
"We had the first senior official meeting where we discussed a range of issues. The variety of people on the table reflected the range of topics discussed. A 39 item action list was made for future exploration and it covered mutually beneficial investments, technical transfers, [how to] diversify supply chain, investments and exports," Bruer said.
On the areas of investment and trade growth, he said Bangladesh had a lot of potential in ICT, energy and garments.
The high commissioner said Bangladeshi garments trade imported raw materials from Australia, which is a major cotton and wool exporter.
"So there is certainly potential for growth there. There is also the prospect of exporting finished wool back to Australia, so it is another good investment opportunity," he said.
"I'd like to see greater investment from Australian businesses here because it provides a much stronger kind of basis for stronger trade and business relationships. We also take further advantage of the people-to-people links. There are 85,000 Australians with Bangladeshi connections who are making great contributions to both the economy and our multicultural society. In short, there is potential to do a lot more and I'd love to see that."
Bruer also said Australia was now the largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter in the world and could help Bangladesh's growing energy needs.
"We have been talking to companies here and in Australia about that. We'd love to see a long term contract."
Highlighting the "impressive" launch of the Padma Bridge, he said Bangladesh has a large requirement for infrastructure and that was also an investment opportunity for Australian businesses.
The Australian high commissioner also touched upon the prickly issue of Quad, a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States.
"The Quad is four countries; it's not five or six and we are not seeking new members. We are trying to work in ways that are constructive and helpful to the region by offering solutions and ideas to environmental, health and different issues."
In May last year, Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming said the Quad was a military alliance aimed against China's resurgence and its relationship with neighbouring countries. He said Bangladesh should not join Quad as it would "substantially damage" Dhaka-Beijing relations.
This prompted Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen to say the remark from the Chinese ambassador was unfortunate, but maintained that Bangladesh had not received any offer to join the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).
Asked about the threat from China, Bruer said he would not use that term.
"Australia wants to see a prosperous, stable, sovereign and inclusive region. Australia sees the world through the Indo-Pacific prism, obviously everything that comes over and under that region affects our own prosperity and our own stability. So I want to see that region become and remain stable, prosperous and sovereign. We want to give opportunities to countries to exercise this sovereignty," he said.
On the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he said the Australian position was very clear.
"We condemn what we regard as an unprovoked, unjustified and illegal invasion and call for Russia to withdraw. That's what we want to see."
Asked if the fate of Ukraine could determine the fate of Taiwan, Bruer did not reply, but reiterated the call for Russia to cease and withdraw.
The Business Standard Editor Inam Ahmed, Executive Editor Sharier Khan, Deputy Executive Editor Shakhawat Liton, Feature Editor Mubin S Khan and Chief Reporter Morshed Noman were present at the occasion.