June 19, 2024, 4:35 pm

Diplomatic correspondent

2024-05-22 03:50:44 BdST

Australia seeks deeper co-op with Bangladesh on economy, climate, maritime security

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Tuesday pledged to have “deeper cooperation” with Bangladesh on key fronts and address the shared challenges of climate change, regional maritime security and people smuggling. 

“One of the things we want to do is to have deeper cooperation between our coastguards…..we understand it is a shared challenge,” she said while responding to a question from a journalist at a joint briefing at state guesthouse Padma.

Earlier, she had separate meetings with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud at Gonobhaban and state guesthouse Padma respectively.

The Australian FM said her country is working with Bangladesh to deepen their cooperation, including on trade and investment, and to find practical solutions to shared challenges such as climate change, regional maritime security and people smuggling.

“We share a region. We share an Ocean and we share a future. And we (Australia) are determined to do what we can to work with you and other partners to make sure the region is peaceful, stable and prosperous,” she said.

The Australian minister said her government understands the importance of international rules and norms and are deepening the economic relationship with Bangladesh.

She pledged additional funding and assistance in a number of areas for deeper economic engagement, economic reforms and addressing graduation-related challenges.

“We are working on practical solutions for shared challenges. All of these challenges, we understand, cannot be dealt with by a single country. It requires partnership and collaboration,” Penny Wong said.

She mentioned that they are very committed to deepen their cooperation and to strengthen collaboration with the government of Bangladesh.

Wong highlighted Bangladesh’s initiatives on the climate front and vowed to work together in that area.

Both sides noted “significant” people to people link and cooperation in the education sector. Australia and Bangladesh have significant people-to-people links, with over 50,000 people in Australia born in Bangladesh.

Foreign Minister Hasan said this is the first visit by any Australian FM in the last 26 years. “We had a very good discussion. Bangladesh and Australia are having a very good relationship. Australia has contributed a lot.”

He said the two-way trade now stands at around $4bn, reflecting Bangladesh’s significant economic growth. “This is quite impressive. The trade volume was much smaller in size ten years ago.”

Hasan said the Australian FM assured him of continuing the duty-free and quota-free market access to Australia.

They talked about more Australian investment in Bangladesh, cooperation for skill development with more Australian assistance.

“We have talked about human trafficking and we have agreed to work together. We have talked about climate challenges as Bangladesh is an innocent victim of climate change,” said Hasan. 

The Australian FM, who arrived in Dhaka on Tuesday morning on a two-day official visit, will travel to Cox’s Bazar on Wednesday morning to see the situation in Rohingya camps.

"I will also travel to Cox's Bazar, where I will see how Australia's humanitarian assistance is delivering practical support to displaced Rohingya and Bangladeshi host communities," Wong said.

Australia's humanitarian assistance is part of a global effort to address the causes of displacement, find durable solutions, and ultimately allow Rohingya to realise their goal of returning to their homeland, according to the Australian High Commission in Dhaka.

She is travelling to Bangladesh to advance Australia's interests in a peaceful, stable and prosperous Indian Ocean region, said the Australian minister.

She also said, "As Australia enhances our engagement with the Indian Ocean region, I am pleased to undertake my first visit to Bangladesh."

A small delegation including Deputy Secretary, South and Southeast Asia Group and Head of the Office of Southeast Asia, in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Michelle Chan is accompanying the Australian foreign minister.

Foreign Minister Hasan hosted a dinner in honour of his visiting counterpart  where a number of ministers attended.

Earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he looks forward to working with PM Hasina to strengthen the bilateral relationship and together contribute to regional peace, prosperity and security.

“As Indian Ocean nations, we share an interest in a region that is grounded in sovereignty, promotes the prosperity and security of our citizens, and addresses the threat of climate change," he said in a letter written to PM Hasina congratulating her on reelection in January.

The Australian PM highlighted the importance of their partnership in promoting "peace, prosperity and security" in the Indian Ocean.

He affirmed his support for growing bilateral and regional cooperation between Australia and Bangladesh.

“We have many common interests in increasing our trade and investment, promoting human rights, cooperating on people smuggling and addressing the Rohingya issue,” Albanese wrote.

The two countries are scheduled to hold the 5th Foreign Office Consultation (FOC) in Australia next month, said an official. The 4th FOC was held in Dhaka in March last year.

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