Bangladesh-France Bilateral Relations in 2023: Issues and Directions

Since February 1972, after France officially recognized Bangladesh as an independent nation, both countries have been relishing an efficacious relationship over the years. In this course, 2023 has conjoined another plethora of progress in the bilateral rapport covering wide issues of geostrategic, economic, technological, and other relevant arenas. The year 2023, moreover, has fashioned the potential to emerge as a breakthrough period in bilateral relations between Bangladesh and France. In this respect, French President Emmanuel Macron’s high-profile September visit to Bangladesh has set the stage for elevated strategic cooperation between two increasingly aligned partners.

On the geopolitical front, both nations have reiterated a shared vision for a “free, open, peaceful and inclusive” Indo-Pacific region anchored in international liberal order. As Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina noted, ‘Deeper France-Bangladesh ties can inject positive momentum towards this rules-based regional order at a time of global flux.’ France’s geostrategic objectives in the Indian Ocean and Bangladesh’s coastal location possessing the spheres of influence in the Bay of Bengal make both partners natural in ensuring maritime security and regional stability. Moreover, with convergent priorities around climate action, sustainable connectivity, quality FDI inflows, and counterterrorism, there exists robust space for bilateral and multilateral cooperation that has been spurred in the year 2023. France’s steadfast support for Bangladesh’s foreign policy autonomy has also catalyzed partnerships upholding strategic stability across South Asia and the Indo-Pacific.

On the economic side, with Bangladesh aiming for upper middle-income status by 2031, France has conveyed strong interest in aiding its infrastructure and technology goals. The $3 billion aviation deal with Airbus signed in 2023 reinforces widened commercial links. The signed French assistance, after Macron’s visit, in airports, climate, and shipping signal additional vectors of win-win cooperation suited for Bangladesh’s rapid growth in developmental needs. However, as democracies aligned on progressive values from secularism to climate justice, deeper societal connections also underpin the relationship’s positive trajectory in 2023. France President Emmanuel Macron’s appreciation of Bangladesh’s economic miracle and developmental priorities highlights widening spheres of mutual understanding central to people-centric regional and global integration.

With robust historical bonds, shared worldviews, and expanding strategic and economic priorities, alongside public warmth fueling societal relations, 2023 has provided a fertile ground for an elevated Bangladesh-France partnership that gave rise to a positive change across South Asia and beyond.

Macron’s Visit and a New Acme of Bangladesh-France Bilateral Ties

Bangladesh-France bilateral rapport experienced a new pinnacle marking wide progress in different aspects after and before the breakthrough visit of Emmanuel Macron this year. French President Emmanuel Macron relished an official visit on September 10 giving rise to a landmark filled with bilateral talks and agreements between the two countries. With this noteworthy visit, it is also evident that the relationship between Dhaka and Paris is currently at its strongest point, with increasing economic ties and collaboration on important issues such as aviation buying and climate action.

During Macron’s momentous September 2023 visit, Bangladesh and France took the bilateral relations to a new level by expressing to establish a “strategic partnership for peace, prosperity, and people.” The joint statement, published after the bilateral summit, hinted at enhanced cooperation across various areas including climate action, sustainable development, trade, defence, technology, culture, and more. The visit also focused on the development of a trusted and meaningful relationship that promotes strategic autonomy, while also emphasizing shared democratic values and the promotion of aims regarding development. France consistently supports Bangladesh’s climate resilience efforts, focusing on spurring climate finance to support the green transitions of developing nations. Both parties emphasized the need for a swift global energy transition and expressed support for the progress made at COP28 on climate issues. The joint statement said, “Bangladesh and France reiterate their interest in expanding bilateral trade and exploring potentials for future investments.”

Even before Macron’s visit, Bertrand Lortholary, a senior French foreign ministry official visiting Bangladesh in January 2023, emphasized France’s interest in enhancing cooperation with Dhaka across climate, security, and economic realms. As he stated, France seeks “ever closer” collaboration with Indo-Pacific states, especially Bangladesh, to tackle shared challenges. Citing the “thriving relationship,” and highlighting “the security of maritime transport, traffic of goods on the oceans, and the need of tackling together illegal fishing,” Lortholary noted deep alignment between the two countries’ vision for a “free, open, peaceful” Indo-Pacific region.

However, as both Sheikh Hasina and Emmanuel Macron highlighted, this visit paved the way for enhanced connectivity between France and Bangladesh. During his speech, Macron described the strengthened relationship as “ushering in a new era of our longstanding partnership.” Given the common history and mutual interests in sustainability and democratic values, it appears that the two countries are well-positioned to collaborate strategically on both regional and global issues even after 2023.

Economic, Trade, and Technological Ties in 2023

During French President Emmanuel Macron’s September 2023 visit to Bangladesh, the leaders of both countries expressed interest in strengthening bilateral trade and investment flows. As the joint statement affirmed, France lauded Bangladesh’s economic prospects and “willingness to further deepen and widen” economic partnership across sectors. During Macron’s visit, a Credit Facility Agreement (MoU) was inked between the Economic Relations Division of Bangladesh and the France Development Agency of France for the ‘Improving Urban Governance and Infrastructure Programme’. Also, a significant agreement had been reached between Bangladesh Satellite Company Limited and Airbus Defence and Space SAS, France, regarding the Bangabandhu-2 Earth Observation Satellite System. 

Building on the 2018 launch of Bangladesh’s first communications satellite built by France’s Thales Alenia Space, the fresh space cooperation signifies widened bilateral space ties. It also highlights deepening economic links with France across strategic high-technology sectors beyond traditional partnerships in engineering and energy. As per reports, the roughly $200 million credit line from France would support quality infrastructure aligned with Bangladesh’s development vision. Meanwhile, the satellite technology transfer pact aims to boost Bangladesh’s independent earth monitoring capabilities for improved crop forecasting and maritime domain awareness. According to Sheikh Hasina, France has restated its willingness to promote trade with Bangladesh under the EU’s Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) offering developing nations opportunities to achieve sustainable development along with good governance.

By the way, in a major aviation shift during Macron’s visit, Bangladesh has agreed to purchase 10 Airbus A-350 widebody aircraft worth over $3 billion—replacing Boeing as the supplier for national carrier Biman’s long-haul fleet upgrade. As per Minister Mahbub Ali, while Biman’s existing 20-plane fleet is fully Boeing, the Airbus order will be executed in phases starting with 2 aircraft. Riding solid economic growth, Bangladesh aims to emerge as an upper middle-income economy by 2031 which should spur air travel demand. With the deal, Biman Bangladesh joins regional peers like Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific in opting for Airbus A-350s.

Furthermore, at the inaugural Bangladesh-France investment summit in Paris in October 2023, French Ambassador Marie Masdupuy framed growing economic links as vital to cementing the strategic partnership between both nations. Referring to President Emmanuel Macron’s September visit which elevated bilateral ties, she asked French firms to tap into Bangladesh’s resilience and dynamism across priority sectors. Noting robust existing partnerships in shipping, apparel, LPG and technical certifications, analysts see room for greater private sector participation. Flagship collaborations in aviation, satellites and water treatment showcase promising vectors of commercial cooperation between French expertise and Bangladesh’s development needs.

However, as briefed by the Élysée Palace, Macron’s trip has been aiming to accelerate cooperation across nuclear power, hydropower, aeronautics and other high-potential sectors where France boasts specialized capabilities that can support Bangladesh’s development vision. As the Élysée official affirmed, “Bangladesh can become one of the 30 largest economies in the world by 2030 and is looking to the rest of the world.” By the way, over time, the bilateral trade between France and Bangladesh has experienced a remarkable surge since the 1990s, with the overall trade volume skyrocketing from €210M to an impressive €4.9 billion by 2023. This significant increase in trade has positioned France as the fifth-largest destination for exports from Bangladesh. By backing Bangladesh’s strategic autonomy and showcasing its economic potential to hit $1 trillion in GDP by 2041, France aims for significant bilateral and regional impacts.

Geopolitical and Geostrategic Cooperation

The Bangladesh-France bilateral rapport in 2023 has also experienced Emmanuel Macron’s high-stakes Bangladesh visit aiming to translate France’s resident power status in the Indo-Pacific into substantive ties with the region’s pivotal actors. Beyond inking economic deals, Macron doubled down on strategic messaging—presenting France as an alternative partner for Asian nations amid escalating US-China rivalry. As Macron affirmed, Bangladesh is a prime target for advanced cooperation given its annual 7% growth, demographic heft and increasing global leadership on issues like climate vulnerability. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina noted deep alignment with Macron’s push for “strategic autonomy” across the Indo-Pacific built on cooperation, not coercion. 

With France also elevating ties with regional heavyweights like India, the stage seems set for synergistic partnerships upholding stability. “Based on democratic principles and the rule of law, in a region facing new imperialism, we want to propose a third way. All our strategy is focused on strengthening the independence and the strategic autonomy of our friends to give them the ‘freedom of sovereignty’,” Emmanuel Macron noted. In the joint press briefing with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, he conveyed full endorsement of Dhaka’s self-reliant trajectory backed by strong economic fundamentals and democratic continuity.

Cooperation in Climate Change

In a personal discussion with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during his September visit, Emmanuel Macron extended an offer of support from France to Bangladesh to cooperate on an energy transition. France, along with other European nations, has already undertaken similar endeavours with various developing countries, including South Africa and Indonesia. In these instances, France has allocated hundreds of millions of euros to facilitate the change of these countries from economies reliant on fossil fuels to economies centred around renewable energy sources. Moreover, Macron extended an invitation to Bangladesh to become a member of the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund (GBFF), a newly established initiative aimed at supporting the preservation of earthly and aquatic species in various countries.

In addition, in December 2023, France announced its commitment to signing a deal with Bangladesh to provide financial support for climate change adaptation and addressing damage and loss. In a significant move, the French Development Agency has committed a substantial investment of €1 billion ($1.1 billion), while the IMF is expected to provide $1 billion worth of special drawing rights (SDRs) for additional loans. In this regard, Macron emphasized the importance of these countries gaining access to innovative environmentally friendly technologies, now considered the driving force behind economic growth.

Future Directions 

Apart from geopolitical and economic developments, France has pledged to take action on the Rohingya genocide case filed with the International Court of Justice, as stated in the joint statement during Macron’s visit.

However, as 2023 ended, the significantly elevated Bangladesh-France partnership across economic, climate, strategic and societal realms seem poised for an even brighter future. Building on the momentum from President Macron’s breakthrough September visit, both nations can further synergy on quality infrastructure, space tech transfers, clean energy transitions and maritime security. With France backing Bangladesh’s regional leadership across climate justice and immigration issues, more collective initiatives upholding sustainability and human rights beckon.

Moreover, with the strategic autonomy vision increasingly binding both partners, 2024 and onward could witness major Bangladesh-France joint ventures in satellites, port connectivity, climate resilience and defence tech. As Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina affirmed, beyond transactions, it is the “trust and confidence” anchoring relations that bode well for this consequential cooperation between two leading Indo-Pacific democracies. Whether spurring regional stability or showcasing inspirational climate leadership to the world, more history-making Bangladesh-France collaboration seemingly lies ahead. 

[Photo by Prime Minister’s Office of Bangladesh/Handout via Reuters]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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