Warming the US-Bangladesh relations
A diplomatic mission led by the foreign secretary left for Washington on February 16 to hold a comprehensive discussion with the State Department officials for four days to address the concerns of the United States.
During the first term of Sheikh Hasina’s government (1996-2001), bilateral relations reached its peak when President Clinton visited Bangladesh on March 20, 2000, the first ever visit by a US President.
Although during her second term (2009-2013), the Hasina government had become an ally of the United States in the war on terrorism and a Dialogue partner as per “the Dialogue on Partnership” Agreement of 5th May 2012 during the visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, bilateral relations continued to be cool but routine in nature.
Many argue the suspension of Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) in June last year was only a discreet manifestation of its discreet displeasure with the Bangladesh government on the pretext of aftermath of Rana Plaza tragedy. Although the suspension does not directly affect the country’s multi-billion-dollar clothing export to the US, it is the international image of Bangladesh which has been damaged.
Since 2009, no visit of the Prime Minister took place to the White House when President Obama received so many Asian leaders including the leaders of Pakistan, Myanmar and Vietnam.
During the second term of the Obama administration, Secretary of State John Kerry came twice to South Asia (India and Pakistan) but avoided visit to Bangladesh. He abruptly cancelled his proposed 6-hour trip to the country.
After the January 5 non-inclusive election which the government held as a constitutional necessity, the relations appear to have become worse. No congratulatory message came from the US administration to the Prime Minister for her third term, and the US continues to demand credible and inclusive polls soon, meaning that the January polls did not reflect people’s will.
There are many factors which have contributed to this state of cool relations and the main ones seem to be as follows:
First, the reportedly harsh remarks about the founder of the Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus of the government leaders did not go down well with the Obama administration. Professor Yunus was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal from the US, a rare honour. Naturally the US wants to see a person who has been held in so high esteem by the US administration and the Congress well –treated in his own country.
The former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her 20-hour visit to Bangladesh in May 2012, did not mince words in her praise for Dr. Yunus .To further illustrate her admiration for the Nobel laureate, Clinton held an hour-long breakfast meeting with Dr. Yunus.
Second, the US wants to see multi-party democracy flourish in Bangladesh. Both the US and Bangladesh nationals have utter dislike of authoritarian rule. Last year US Secretary of State John Kerry wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to come to an agreement ensuring inclusive, free and fair elections. It is reported that the government did not respond to Kerry’s letter.
Third, the failure to prosecute the alleged murderer of labour leader Aminul Islam has infuriated the powerful trade union of the US–AFL-CIO, and the US Ambassador has several times called for thorough investigation leading to detection and punishment of the culprit. Furthermore, the US expressed concerns on mysterious “disappearances” of Bangladeshi citizens during the tenure of the government.
Having said that, the US remains engaged for its own interest with Bangladesh which is strategically very important to the US. Bangladesh shares borders with India and a rising reformist Myanmar and is close to China. The country stands as a physical conduit between South Asia and South East Asia.
Bangladesh’s access to the Indian Ocean is strategically important. Bangladesh is an integral component of that interconnectivity in the US proposed New Silk-Road (economic corridor) linking Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China. .
For strategic reasons, the US maintains military cooperation with Bangladesh. The third annual exercise “Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training” (CARAT) was held at Chittagong Naval Base Issa Khan in mid-September last year for six days to address shared maritime security priorities and a five-day exercise titled “Exercise Cope South-2013” between Bangladesh Air Force, and Pacific Air Force, USA, took place on November 9 to enhance BAF’s capability during natural disasters.
The issues in which the US have concerns are political and. decisions at a political level have to be made by the Hasina government on issues such as, holding another early inclusive parliamentary polls, ending extrajudicial killings and holding those accountable those responsible for the deaths, halting harsh treatment of political opponents, and securing workers’ rights as well as safety issues in garment sector.
The reality is that Bangladesh needs the US as much as the US needs Bangladesh in a rapidly changing security environment in Asia-Pacific region.
The United States established diplomatic relations with Bangladesh in 1972 following its independence from Pakistan. U.S.-Bangladesh relations are excellent and reflect the two countries’ strong bonds of friendship and shared values. Bangladesh is a key U.S. strategic partner in South Asia. The country’s efforts at development, countering violent extremism, assisting international peacekeeping, and improving regional connectivity are vital to regional and global stability. The U.S.-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue advances shared bilateral, regional, and global objectives and gives strategic direction to ongoing and future cooperative activities. The second U.S.-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue meeting, held in Dhaka May 26-27, 2013, covered a wide variety of topics: democracy and governance, trade and investment, security cooperation and regional integration.
Bangladesh has made progress toward a more prosperous and democratic society. Despite improvements, much of the population still lives in poverty and the country faces major vulnerabilities in the areas of infrastructure shortcomings, governance, and potential terrorist exploitation by extremist groups. These challenges are compounded by the fact that Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Bilateral Economic Relations
U.S. assistance seeks to foster robust engagement with the Government of Bangladesh and complement support from other donors to address the underlying social, demographic, and economic factors that threaten democratic governance, stifle economic growth, and increase vulnerability to extremism in Bangladesh. The United States aims to build on previous gains to further reduce poverty and food insecurity, improve health and education, mitigate the impact of frequent natural disasters, and achieve more effective governance in order to foster equitable and sustainable growth.
Bilateral Economic Relations
U.S. exports to Bangladesh include agricultural products (cotton, wheat, dairy products), aircraft, machinery, and iron and steel products. U.S. imports from Bangladesh include apparel, other textile products, headgear, shrimp and prawns, and agricultural products (primarily tobacco). The United States is one of Bangladesh’s largest export markets. The two countries have signed a bilateral investment treaty and a bilateral treaty for the avoidance of double taxation. Bangladesh provides several tax, foreign exchange, customs, and labor incentives to investors in its export processing zones. On June 27, 2013, President Barack Obama suspended Bangladesh’s designation as a beneficiary country under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, citing Bangladesh’s inability to take steps to adopt internationally recognized workers rights. The decision to suspend Bangladesh’s designation came after a multi-year review by the U.S. Trade Representative.
Bangladesh’s Membership in International Organizations
Bangladesh and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, ASEAN Regional Forum, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization.
The U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh is Dan W. Mozena; other principal embassy officials are listed in the Department’s Key Officers List.
Bangladesh maintains an embassy in the United States at 3510 International Drive NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-244-0183).
Department of State Bangladesh Country Page
Department of State Key Officers List
CIA World Factbook Bangladesh Page
U.S. Embassy: Bangladesh
USAID Bangladesh Page
History of U.S. Relations With Bangladesh
Human Rights Reports
International Religious Freedom Reports
Trafficking in Persons Reports
Narcotics Control Reports
Investment Climate Statements
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Countries Page
U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics
Export.gov International Offices Page
Library of Congress Country Studies
Travel and Business Information