US-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue: What to Expect?

In the third week of March, 2022, Bangladesh and the United States will have the next round of partnership dialogue in the context of changing bilateral, regional, and global realities. Also, this time it, the 8th partnership dialogue holds special significance as it will take place after the imposition of the US sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite paramilitary force of Bangladesh, and the global Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2012, Bangladesh and the US launched the annual partnership dialogue to further strengthen their bilateral relations highlighting the common interests and shared goals. This forum intends to assist the two countries in finding a strategic direction for their current and future cooperative and joint efforts. Generally, a wide range of issues are being discussed in the dialogue including trade and investment, national and regional security, development and governance etc. Representatives from the business also share their ideas indicating the importance of business leaders’ and people to people contact to the development of overall bilateral relationship. Also, civil society leaders get a chance to share their thoughts in the roundtable discussion. It’s crucial to analyze the expectations of the Bangladeshis to generate better output from the partnership dialogue.

What topic should get preference in the dialogue?

Under the COVAX facility, Bangladesh has become the largest recipient of Covid-19 vaccine doses from the US among all the countries worldwide. As of today, Bangladesh has received more than 61 million vaccine doses from the US government. Apart from donating vaccine, the US has trained over 9,000 healthcare providers and volunteers on proper vaccination management. It is time for Bangladesh to express gratitude to the Biden administration for extending helping hand unconditionally towards Bangladesh for confronting the challenges posed by the Covid-19. In the dialogue, both countries may plan on cooperating more in the future to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic if it takes serious turn. 

Bangladesh has been generously hosting 1.2 million Rohingyas since 2017 when the Myanmar army conducted “Clearance Operation” against the Muslim minority Rohingyas in Rakhine state. Besides, Bangladesh is facing a tremendous funding crisis required to support Rohingya refugees. Dhaka may expect that the US as a global leader, will take proactive steps to resolve the Rohingya crisis which should be discussed with needed attention in the upcoming dialogue.

In order to materialize “Vision-2041“, a well-planned national strategic plan to become a high-income nation through industrialization, Bangladesh requires huge investment for its socio-economic development projects which the country cannot manage from its self-fund or from the internal sources. In 2019, the USA was the highest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflow to Bangladesh. As Bangladesh perceives the US as its proven development partner, the former may seek financial assistance from the latter for expanding its manufacturing capacity, developing human capital, and boosting export capabilities.

Considering the socio-cultural setup of Bangladesh, the US and the UK helped to create the RAB, a special force to maintain peace and stability, by providing training and logistics support in 2004. The recent “unilateral” sanction on RAB came like a bombshell for the Bangladesh government. As Bangladesh always accepted constructive suggestions from the US, the Biden administration had the option to discuss their concern against RAB before slapping the sudden sanction. Instead of imposing sanctions, the US could have discussed its concern for the RAB in the partnership dialogue with guidelines for bringing positive reforms.

In the last few decades, Bangladesh has positively transformed its image from a “garment manufacturer and a poor LDC” to “one of the fastest growing world’s economy” & “major contributor of the world’s peace through UN peacekeeping”. Given the geopoltical importance and commercial noteworthiness of Bangladesh, the US should redesign its strategic consideration in South Asia going beyond India. Apart from the aforementioned issues, they can discuss on boosting bilateral trade and investment esepcially after post-pandemic era. Also, they may design a roadmap with clearly defined strategies for fighting transnational crimes, preventing human trafficking, dealing with drug dealers along the Indian Ocean Rim as critical elements of global security. And, the 8th upcoming partnership dialogue is the best platform where they can discuss about each other’s expectation to chart the next 50 years of partnership between the two countries in a new way.

[Photo by PMO Bangladesh]

Hussain Shazzad is a strategic affairs and foreign policy analyst with an M.B.A. from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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