According to British MP Nigel Evans, the United Kingdom is looking for strengthened relations with the Commonwealth countries and for sharing opportunities emerging from Brexit with Bangladesh. Evans, who is also the Vice Chair of the International Trade Select Committee, said a renewed effort is under way by Britain to reconnect with the Commonwealth countries. The UK lawmaker and also the Chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (UK) made the remarks on April 03, 2017 at the British High Commissioner's official residence attended by Bangladesh's senior government and opposition members and leaders of business and the media.
The UK is leaving the European Union (EU) and wants to make absolutely certain that the opportunities that Brexit is going to provide are going to be shared by Bangladesh as well. It might be that in the post-1973, when the UK joined the EU, a number of Commonwealth countries felt that it let them down. "For that I say sorry tonight", said Evans. As far as the Commonwealth is concerned, it always had a special place in the UK's consideration. "What we want to do now is … to make sure that the Commonwealth is put on a pedestal", said the British MP.
Evans, who is also a member of the International Development Select Committee, expressed his hope that Bangladesh would join Britain in building a common future for the two countries. He considered Bangladesh as an important part of the Commonwealth and the UK wants to see it interacting in a way that it has never done before. He said, "Let's use this as an opportunity to open doors, to shake hands, to embrace one another, and to say we are neighbours, we're friends, we've got a common history together but we've got an exciting and, I believe, common future together as well".
Earlier, British Minister for Asia and the Pacific Alok Sharma saw opportunities of increasing trade and investment with Bangladesh even after the UK's exit from the EU. He said, "Leaving the EU, of course, gives us opportunities to do even more together with old established friends like Bangladesh. So, I can see the opportunities for us in increasing trade and bilateral investment following our exit from the EU". The UK is the world's third single largest destination for Bangladesh's exports where all products enjoy duty-free market access following the EU's everything but arms regime.
Sharma said Britain would first negotiate its deal with the EU and then would start 'formal negotiation' with any other country regarding trade deal, as the UK started talks to leave the European bloc. He said, referring to the strategic dialogue that both countries agreed during his visit to hold at the end of March 2017, that "it is the case we need to negotiate our deal with the EU first. We cannot start a formal negotiation with any other country regarding trade deal. But, of course, we can have a dialogue and apparently a business dialogue will be part of the strategic dialogue that takes place at the end of this (April) month".
The UK, for long, has been one of the largest development partners of Bangladesh. It also has substantial business interests in Bangladesh and remains the country's second biggest foreign investor. Over 240 British companies are operating in sectors including retail, banking, energy, infrastructure, consultancy and education with leading centres of operation in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet. About half a million Bangladeshi expatriates live in the UK alone.
The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre.