The European Union and Bangladesh held the 9th session of their Joint Commission

On 21 October, the 9th Session of the European Union (EU)-Bangladesh Joint Commission was held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in a constructive atmosphere, covering a wide range of issues of common interest.

The people and Government of Bangladesh, as well as the international humanitarian community, including NGOs, have collectively provided a comprehensive response to the humanitarian challenge caused by the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh. The EU recalled its political and financial support to the Government and the people of Bangladesh in facing the crisis.The EU expressed again its appreciation for the generous and humane role and action of the people and Government of Bangladesh and stressed the need for voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingyas to Myanmar. Bangladesh expects continued support in this regard. Both sides expressed commitment to pursue the accountability mechanisms for the crimes committed against the Rohingyas in Myanmar through various multilateral initiatives.The plan for relocation of Rohingya to Bhashan char was discussed. Bangladesh side reassured on the voluntary nature of the relocation and engagement with the international community.

Both the EU and Bangladesh agreed on the aim to strengthen the economic relationship through increased trade and investment flows, for which it was essential to ensure a predictable and transparent business environment for economic operators. Bangladesh and the EU concurred that the EU’s unilateral, preferential trade scheme Everything But Arms (EBA) under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences  – granted to Bangladesh has made a direct and significant contribution to Bangladesh’s economic growth and social and economic development. Exports from Bangladesh to the EU have more than tripled between 2006 and 2018 and the EU is currently the main trading partner of Bangladesh, absorbing half of its overall exports. EU mentioned that Bangladesh is the source of more than 62% of all EBA exports to the EU, and hence the largest beneficiary from the EU EBA programme.  Both sides committed to further enhance the regular EU-Bangladesh Business Climate Dialogue to address impediments towards more trade and investment from the EU.

In this context, it was recalled that EBA preferences as well as any future trade relationship are conditional on the respect of human rights, including labour rights, as reflected in the international conventions listed in the GSP Regulation. Sustained reforms of labour rights standards by the Government of Bangladesh, and their full alignment with International LabourOrganisation (ILO) Conventions on the basis of consensus of tripartite constituents is crucial in this regard. While good progress has been made on factory safety in the garment sector, many steps are still outstanding in the area of labourrights and the full implementation of the Sustainability Compact is also necessary. The EU stressed that a fully empowered and resilient civil society, in all its diversity, is a crucial component of a democracy.The EU and Bangladesh agreed to developa roadmap on some issues strengthening compliance with labour and human rights.

The Joint Commission reviewed political developments on both sides, and discussed the role of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, including the importance of holding free and fair elections. The EU raised concerns on the situation of human rights, in particular reports of ‘extrajudicial killings’, and ‘enforced disappearances’. The Bangladesh side in response, reiterated its ‘zero tolerance’ policy to violations of laws and human rights by the law enforcement agencies and the Government’s commitment and continued efforts to ensure accountability, including through the capacity building of the law enforcement agencies. The EU recalled its concerns regarding certain provisions of the Digital Security Act (DSA) and requested for ensuring freedom of expression. The Bangladesh side committed that no provision of the DSA will be used in any way that would limit freedom of expression.  Both sides stressed the importance of ensuring full implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the other UN human rights conventions ratified by Bangladesh, in line with the Constitution of Bangladesh.

It is crucial for stability, economic growth and development to promote and protect the human rights of all, regardless of ethnicity, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious or political affiliation, disability or socio-economic background.

Bangladesh and the European Union welcomed that currently the Development Cooperationof the EU and its Member States with Bangladesh amounts to more than 5 000 crore(€541 mln) per year.They launched discussions on the key priorities for the post-2020cooperation agenda, also taking into account the Government’s incoming 8th5-year plan. The Joint Commission agreed on the importance of a regular sectoral policy dialogue to accompany long-term reforms and to reinforce the EU-Bangladesh partnership for development cooperation in particular in the areas of Climate Change, Social Protection, Human Capital and Good governance.  The European Union and Bangladesh agreed to continue working jointly towards the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and within a wider framework, which should include other key international partners and the private sector. The sides also focused on jointly identifying opportunities for supporting investment, including on key environment and climate change resilient infrastructure.

They also agreed that the good economic progress and the future graduation from Least Developed Country status should give the opportunity to share the benefit of this progress with the poorer and the most vulnerable part of the population.

The Joint Commission discussed the progress on joint commitments in the context of the EU-Bangladesh Standard Operating Procedures for the Identification and Return of Persons without Authorization to Stay, and agreed to further enhance cooperation in this area.

The Joint Commission was co-chaired by Ms Paola Pampaloni, Deputy Managing Director of the External Action Service of the European Union and Mr Md. Ashadul Islam,  Senior Secretary, Financial Institutions Division, Ministry of Finance,  the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

The Joint Commission was held in line with the commitments undertaken by the European Union and Bangladesh under the Co-operation Agreement of 2001, the 9th Session of the European Union-Bangladesh Joint Commission was held in Dhaka on 21st of October 2019. The Joint Commission was preceded by the meeting of 3 subgroups: Human Right and Good Governance (on 17th of October); Trade and Economic Cooperation (on 20th of October), Development Cooperation (on 20th of October). A GSP “Everything but Arms” (EBA) follow-up mission (14th to 16th of October) has reported to the Joint Commission.

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