The governments of the United States and Bangladesh, led respectively by U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon and Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque, convened the fifth annual Partnership Dialogue on June 23-24, 2016, in Washington, D.C. Both sides highlighted the growing bilateral ties between Bangladesh and the United States and reaffirmed a relationship based on shared values and common goals. The two leaders recognized that the Partnership Dialogue, established in 2012, presents an opportunity to broaden and deepen the relationship and highlight our long history of cooperation.
Working Group discussions on June 23 covered the full range of bilateral and regional topics of interest, including security cooperation, development and governance cooperation, and trade and investment cooperation. During the June 24 plenary session, the co-chairs reviewed progress by their delegations, recognized existing areas of cooperation and identified areas for deepened cooperation on bilateral, regional, and global issues, including women’s empowerment, trade and investment, climate change, health, food security, Our Ocean/Blue Economy, peacekeeping, humanitarian and development assistance, and countering terrorism and violent extremism.
Strengthening Security Cooperation
In light of global circumstances and in recognition of the threats posed by terrorism and violent extremism around the world, Bangladesh and the United States have demonstrated their shared commitment to broadening and deepening their partnership, including on security and counterterrorism and countering violent extremism. Bangladesh and the United States recognize the shared threats they face and that countering violent extremist groups, including Da’esh (ISIL) and Al Qai’da, constitutes a global challenge that must be addressed jointly.
As a way to deepen our cooperation, we are announcing Bangladesh’s participation in the U.S. Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF), which would enable Bangladesh and the United States to expand our bilateral counterterrorism partnership and support programs to advance the collaboration. CTPF-supported programs would strengthen Bangladesh-U.S. cooperation in responding to evolving radicalization and terrorist threats, help to improve partnerships between our civilian-led counterterrorism elements, and address the conditions that give rise to extremism.
Our cooperation on security seeks to reinforce Bangladesh’s ability to improve community policing, and provide training on counter-messaging, among others. We are also developing career civil servant prosecutors that can specialize in bringing violent extremists to justice, and prevent, address, and counter transnational crime. Additional assistance includes security training to demonstrate our shared commitment of the two countries to promote and protect human rights. This cooperation is a tangible demonstration of the two countries’ firm resolve to counter violent extremism in the region and beyond.
Our defense cooperation continues to focus on maritime security, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, regional counterterrorism, and peacekeeping operations (PKO). The United States welcomes the Bangladesh Navy’s 2016-2018 Chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium. Our peacekeeping capacity building partnership between the two countries via the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) continues to reinforce our security relationship. As one of the largest contributors of UN Peacekeepers, Bangladesh partners with the United States and others to ensure accountability for any allegations. We look forward to the upcoming Security Dialogue, where the two sides will discuss future opportunities for defense and security collaboration.
Cooperating on Development and Governance
Our cooperation on development has long been a bright spot in our bilateral relationship and continues to grow. We celebrate Bangladesh’s historic gains in poverty alleviation, nutrition, maternal and child health, primary education, and empowerment of women. Our partnership through such programs as Feed the Future, Global Health, and Global Climate Change Presidential initiatives continues to yield dividends. We share a vision of an increasingly prosperous Bangladesh – one that serves as a bridge for trade and commerce between South and Southeast Asia. Both sides also discussed ways to encourage civil society in further promoting democratic values and practices.
Recognizing Bangladesh’s leading voice in fighting climate change and its climate vulnerability due to a low lying coastline, the two sides vowed to work together, particularly in supporting adaptation projects through continuing USAID programs, which take a comprehensive approach to address the issue of climate change. Both sides recognized Bangladesh’s effective measures and U.S. partnership on disaster preparation that continues to protect lives and properties during natural disasters including cyclones.
The United States also recognized Bangladesh’s efforts to deal with the issue of irregular migration in the region, and in particular the plight of the Rohingya people. The United States was encouraged by the Bangladesh government’s census of undocumented people in Bangladesh and applauded Bangladesh’s chairing of the Global Forum on Migration and Development. Both sides are committed to continued cooperation on advancing protection, assistance, and solutions for populations displaced within Burma and from Burma (Myanmar) to Bangladesh and also throughout the region.
With a focus on the future of the bilateral relationship, both sides recognized the importance of engaging youth in education, with an emphasis on achieving gender parity at all levels of education. Both countries intend to increase efforts to promote education, including early-grade reading, and to address specific issues that create obstacles for girls at all education levels. Bangladesh and the United States also reaffirmed their mutual commitment to the full and equal economic and political participation of women in both countries and Bangladesh reaffirmed that it will retain the legal age of marriage at 18, without exceptions. Both sides agreed to focus on challenges facing adolescent girls, including girls’ access to secondary education and the prevention of, and response to, early and forced marriage.
Cooperating on Trade, Investment, and Labor
As we look ahead, both delegations identified areas for greater collaboration. The United States offered its full support for increased regional economic integration and connectivity initiatives, including development of the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, facilitation of cross-border trade, energy cooperation, infrastructure development, and greater participation of women in economic activities. The United States applauded Bangladesh’s work on the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal Initiative (BBIN), as well as its investment in hydropower in Bhutan and Nepal. The United States and Bangladesh also discussed the importance of safeguarding the environment. The United States outlined a broad program in Bangladesh to spur development of a national forest inventory to help reduce deforestation, curb illegal logging, and contribute to the monitoring of forest change. Bangladesh expressed its willingness to participate in the September “Our Ocean” conference in Washington, D.C. The United States encouraged Bangladesh to be a partner in the “Sea Scout” initiative to battle against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
The United States acknowledged Bangladesh’s progress on workers’ safety and advancing workers’ rights and reaffirmed its commitment to work together for continued advancement in these areas. Both sides acknowledged the importance of promoting the long-term sustainability of the significant progress made in the areas of building and fire safety and agreed to continue working jointly with all stakeholders to address the remaining issues to further promote labor rights and workers’ health and safety as set out in the Bangladesh Sustainability Compact.
Both sides underscored the huge importance of trade and investment, once again recognized these as vitally important pillars of the partnership, and resolved to continue efforts to expand bilateral trade and investment. The United States noted Bangladesh’s proposal of treating all the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) equally and noted its desire for Duty Free Quota Free (DFQF) access to the U.S. market.
Bangladesh and the United States highlighted the importance of agriculture to their two economies and agreed to deepen engagement to increase agricultural productivity and efficiency, apply standards and regulations based on sound science, and further improve food security and nutrition. They identified several possible areas of technical engagement, including collaboration on addressing wheat blast, a destructive fungal disease, and work to further strengthen institutional capacity in agricultural data collection.
The United States stated that it had been a consistent partner in the success stories of Bangladesh and expressed its willingness to remain so in the future. Bangladesh appreciated the support of the United States in its journey of development over the last four and a half decades. Both sides recognized the contributions made by an estimated half a million Bangladesh-origin Americans to the economy of both countries and agreed to explore avenues for engaging this dynamic community. The United States and Bangladesh recognized the great importance of this relationship and look forward to further broadening, deepening, and strengthening the enduring partnership between the two countries in all possible areas. The two sides emphasized the need for engagement at the political level to take the partnership to a new height.
Leaders of both the delegations expressed satisfaction at the successful completion of the fifth Partnership Dialogue. The Bangladesh Foreign Secretary thanked the U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs for the wonderful hospitality. Both sides agreed to hold the Security Dialogue and the Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (TICFA) in Dhaka in autumn 2016, the Defense Dialogue in autumn 2016 in Washington and the sixth Partnership Dialogue in Bangladesh in 2017 at a mutually agreed date.