The upcoming visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Bangladesh holds great promise for the continued strengthening of bilateral relations between the two nations. This visit is a significant milestone in Bangladesh-France relations, with the last French presidential visit taking place in February 1990 when President Francois Mitterrand visited Bangladesh. In contrast, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has made several trips to France, in 1999, 2017, and 2021, underscoring the commitment to fostering ties between Dhaka and Paris. In 2021, both countries signed a letter of intent on defense cooperation, signaling their intent to enhance dialogue and cooperation further.
This impending visit carries several important implications. Firstly, it provides a valuable opportunity to steer bilateral relations in a new and dynamic direction. The outcomes of this visit hold significance for millions of people in both countries, making it imperative to explore new avenues of cooperation. One key priority could be the blue economy, an area where Bangladesh collaborated with the European Union in a project titled “EU-BGD Joint Collaboration on Blue Economy” from August 2016 to July 2018. The development of the blue economy requires cooperation, collaboration, and mutual trust among neighboring nations, and this visit can serve as a platform for promoting such cooperation.
Climate change is another vital global issue that demands the attention of Bangladesh and France. Bangladesh played a pivotal role in the Paris Climate Accords, and the two nations must reinforce their collaboration on climate-related issues to support climate-vulnerable populations worldwide, including those in Bangladesh.
Moreover, the visit presents an opportunity to enhance cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. Given the growing relevance of this region on the global stage, both Bangladesh and France have strategic interests to pursue, including maritime security, deep-sea fishing, combating illegal fishing practices, and addressing environmental challenges in the Bay of Bengal.
The visit also holds the potential to boost bilateral trade and commerce, building upon a history of economic relations that dates back to the 17th century. In 2021, bilateral trade amounted to US$3.3 billion, with Bangladesh enjoying a substantial trade surplus. France stands as the fifth-largest importer of Bangladeshi goods worldwide and the third-largest within the European Union. Opportunities exist for further expansion of economic ties.
Cooperation in migration is another area worth discussing during Macron’s visit. In 2021, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) recorded 12,878 Bangladeshi migrants in France. With France facing labor shortages in various sectors, including construction, transportation, nursing, and agriculture, discussing the export of manpower to France could be a mutually beneficial agenda item.
Addressing the Rohingya crisis is also paramount, as Bangladesh has been hosting over a million Rohingya refugees. Prolonging the repatriation process will only exacerbate the crisis, and Bangladesh may seek France’s assistance in finding a solution.
People-to-people contact remains essential in fostering Bangladesh-France relations. The historical support extended by the people of France, under the leadership of André Malraux, during Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971 underscores the importance of nurturing cultural and educational exchanges. Scholarships for Bangladeshi students at French universities can be increased to facilitate greater academic collaboration.
Finally, Bangladesh and France share common values on the global stage and can join forces to promote humanitarian causes. Amid the challenges posed by the Russian-Ukraine conflict and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a humane world order centered on the well-being of all must be advanced. In this endeavor, Bangladesh and France can play pivotal roles by collaborating and championing the greater cause of humanity. Macron’s visit to Bangladesh serves as a significant step toward realizing these shared objectives.
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