Wednesday November 30, 2022 01:31 pm

’Bangladesh is a country with an international outlook’: Australian High Commissioner

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🕐 2022-10-25 14:36:58

’Bangladesh is a country with an international outlook’: Australian High Commissioner

Rabb Majumder


A seasoned diplomat, Jeremy Bruer, has been in charge of Dhaka since 2021. Jeremy Bruer worked as the Assistant Secretary for the South Asia Maritime branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade previous to his appointment as the High Commissioner to Bangladesh. In addition to serving as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, high commissioner to Vanuatu, deputy chief of mission at the Australian embassy in Riyadh, and second secretary at the Australian high commission in Port Moresby, the cool, affable, and bright diplomat has also held other positions. Bruer has a master's degree in the arts from Melbourne University and a bachelor's degree in the arts from Adelaide University.
Jeremy Bruer, Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh

Based on our community ties, Shared Commonwealth ideals, and sporting relationships, Australia and Bangladesh have a cordial and productive relationship.  
Australia was one of first nations to acknowledge Bangladesh’s Independence in 1971, and since then, the two nations have built up a solid and expanding economic relationship. 
In an interview with the Security World the Australian High Commissioner has discussed many issues including contentious Rohingya, economy investment and bilateral relations between the two countries. 
The excerpts of the interview as follows: 

Q 1. How do you see the current relations between Australia and Bangladesh? 
The relationship between Australia and Bangladesh has been strong since the earliest days of Bangladesh’s existence as a nation.  We are proud that Australia was one of the first countries in the world, and the first Western country, to recognise Bangladesh in January 1972 and we were delighted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations earlier this year. 
Australians have long been part of the story of Bengal and Bangladesh.  Dutch-Australian William Ouderland made an important contribution to Bangladesh’s Liberation War and is the only foreigner to receive the Bir Pratik, an important Bangladeshi award for gallantry.  Richard Casey, a former Australian foreign minister and governor-general, was governor of Bengal from 1944 to 1946. 
Today, approximately 80,000 Bangladeshi-Australians are making important contributions to Australian society.  Last year, Bangladesh hosted the Australian T20i cricket team.  There is nothing like a mutual love of sport to bring people together.  But our long-standing friendship isn’t built just on cricket.  On the contrary, it flows from growing people-to-people links, trust and cooperation in the pursuit of mutual benefits and, increasingly, trade.
Bangladesh is a country with an international outlook.  It is located at the cross-roads of South East Asia and South Asia – the gateway between ASEAN and the sub-continent.  It is a major contributor to international peacekeeping efforts, a leader in climate change, and a strong partner in multilateral forums such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) – of which it currently holds the chair – and the United Nations.
In a similar way, Australia also has an international outlook.  We depend on international trade, strongly support the multilateral system, and are part of the Indo-Pacific region – we have the Pacific Ocean to our east and the Indian Ocean to our west.  
We support a free, open, and resilient Indo-Pacific region that is respectful of the rules and norms that serve the interests of all nations, large and small.  Australia wants to work with its partners bilaterally and through a wide variety of regional forums including IORA, ASEAN, the Pacific Islands Forum, and groupings such as the Quad to help ensure the Indo-Pacific remains peaceful, prosperous and secure.
Climate change is a key challenge facing the Indo-Pacific region – and the world.  Australia and Bangladesh are both on the frontline of the effects of climate change.  Australia is committed to the Paris Agreement and has a new ambitious legislated 2030 target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent below 2005 levels, putting us on track to achieve our net zero emissions by 2050 target.  At COP26, Australia announced $2 billion in climate finance for 2020-2025, a doubling of Australia’s 2015-2020 pledge.  We will explore the possibility of co-hosting a UN Climate Summit to spur on global climate action.  In Bangladesh, Australia looks forward to continuing our cooperation on coastal risk reduction including conserving mangroves and other blue carbon ecosystems, supporting food security and livelihoods, and contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation for vulnerable communities.

Q 2. How do you evaluate or explain Bangladesh-Australia economic relations amid the Covid-19 pandemic and pre Covid-19 periods? 
Bangladesh has achieved extraordinary, sustained economic growth, especially over the past ten years or so.  There is substantial complementarity between our economies, and bilateral trade has increased dramatically over the decade – growing by 550 per cent over the last decade alone – and reaching $2.6 billion in 2019-2020.  There’s great potential for it to grow further and broaden.  The garment sector, agriculture, food and beverage and education services have been key drivers of the growth in trade.  Bangladesh is a particularly important market for Australia’s high-quality cotton for Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry, chickpeas and wheat, and we see opportunities to diversify, through increasing exports of wool and the pursuit of opportunities in the IT and health sectors.  Australia is particularly well placed to support Bangladesh’s growing energy needs as it transitions to a middle-income country.  I’m keen to see more Australian investment in Bangladesh’s economy (and vice-versa), which will be of mutual benefit to both our economies.

Q 3. What investment opportunities are ahead here in Bangladesh from Australia?
The Australian and Bangladeshi governments are working together to enhance trade and investment opportunities.  In September last year, the Australian and Bangladesh governments signed the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement (TIFA).  Australia hosted the first talks with Bangladesh under the TIFA in February this year.  Under the TIFA we look forward to exploring how our governments can work together to boost the recovery of the private sector and economic growth.  As both countries emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we see opportunities to enhance trade and investment in minerals and energy – including renewable energy – skills development, and information and communication technology services.

Q 4. How do you look at Bangladesh’s Rohingya issue? Will it be a threat to regional and international security?
The Rohingya humanitarian crisis continues to be one of the largest and most complex in the region.  We remain seriously concerned about the ongoing human rights abuses against the Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar and have consistently called for the military regime to be held accountable for its actions.  We continue to urge the regime to end violence against civilians, engage in dialogue, release those unjustly detained, and allow safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance.  We committed to providing humanitarian assistance to affected populations in Myanmar but taking proactive steps to ensure that assistance does not legitimise or give credibility to the regime.
We are very aware that hosting almost one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar has had – and continues to have – a significant impact on Bangladesh.  There are substantial pressures associated with having a large population in a small space and over 500,000 host community members in Cox’s Bazar district feel these pressures acutely. 
We understand the Rohingya would like to return home to Myanmar.  Likewise, we support the voluntary, dignified, safe and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees.  However, this cannot occur until the conditions in Myanmar are safe for them to return.  Australia is committed to working with international and regional bodies (including the International Court of Justice, International Criminal Court and ASEAN) to support Myanmar’s readiness for their voluntary and sustainable return.  ASEAN-led efforts represent the most tangible steps toward ending violence in Myanmar.
We continue to urge the Myanmar military to honour its commitment to AEAN’s leaders to implement the Five Point Consensus to move towards a peaceful resolution in the interests of the people of Myanmar.  In the meantime, we remain committed to supporting Bangladesh as it hosts the Rohingya as well as providing assistance to vulnerable communities in Myanmar to help address factors that could drive further movements into Bangladesh.

Q 5. Would you please provide us in detail what you have extended your assistance for the Rohingya refugees? 
Since August 2017, Australia has provided almost $350 million in humanitarian assistance to meet the basic needs of both Rohingya and host communities in Cox’s Bazar.  We have provided over $75 million this year and work closely with the Bangladesh government and UN and NGO partners to deliver this assistance, which includes provision of nutrition, education, protection, and water, sanitation and hygiene services.  Australia’s contributions have a special focus on addressing the needs of the most vulnerable, including women and girls and people living with disabilities, as well as equipping our partners and the communities they serve to prevent, prepare for and respond to crises, including COVID-19, fires and floods.  We are particularly concerned to ensure that the Rohingya people currently in the camps are equipped appropriately so that when, eventually, they are able to return home, they’re properly prepared — socially, educationally and vocationally — to do so.

Q 6. Do you have any message on the celebration of 50 years of Australia-Bangladesh diplomatic relations in 2022?
Australia was proud to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations on 31 January this year.  People-to-people links have always been the foundation of the relationship between Bangladesh and Australia and people of Bangladeshi origin make up an increasingly important and valued part of Australia’s diverse society.  To this day relations between our two nations remain warm and mutually beneficial.  Australia will remain a staunch partner for Bangladesh into the future, in business and trade, education, culture, in regional and multilateral fora and sustainable development.  I look forward to increasing trade and investment links between our two countries.  I also want to recall the contribution of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for his role in founding this great nation and commend his far-sighted vision to build a golden Bangladesh.  The friendship between the people of Bangladesh and Australia is deep and longstanding.

Q 7. How do you feel in Dhaka? 
Bangladesh is a significant country in our region, full of energy, with a huge, aspirational population and an increasingly influential voice.  Since my arrival in Bangladesh, Bangladesh’s diverse communities and fascinating history have made a deep impression on me.  I hope I will continue to improve my understanding of this beautiful country and its rich history and culture, and meet people throughout the country, from all walks of life.