British Foreign and Commonwealth Office permanent under-secretary Simon McDonald said on Wednesday in Dhaka that Bangladesh and the United Kingdom were on the verge of improving their bilateral relations to strategic partnership.
Describing Bangladesh a key partner for the UK on the wider international stage, he said Bangladesh is a country that interests the UK for population and current economic reasons, such as rapid and consistent growth.
During a strategic dialogue held between the two countries on the day, he said even with 50 per cent of the issues that the two sides have agreed on, the two counties would legitimately claim that ‘it is a strategic partnership that Bangladesh has achieved with the UK.’
Simon McDonald said all this at a public lecture at Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies.
The British official said he was looking forward to celebrate that strategic partnership in Dhaka in two years time during his next visit to Bangladesh.
The UK has been in the process of leaving the European Union, he said, adding that the intentions of the British government are ‘to have good relations with Bangladesh’ irrespective of the choices the UK makes on leaving the EU ‘with a deal’ and ‘with no deal.’
Replying to a question on the possibility of extraditing sentenced persons from the UK to Bangladesh, the under-secretary avoided a direct reply.
This is a sensitive issue. Many cases pop up and more than 90 per cent are happily resolved, he said.
Simon McDonald led the British delegation at the strategic dialogue. Foreign secretary M Shahidul Haque led the Bangladesh delegation in the talks.
Senior officials from both sides including Bangladesh High Commissioner to the UK Saida Muna Tasneem and her British counterpart Robert Chatterton Dickson also participated in the discussions.
In the meeting, the top diplomat of Britain reiterated his government’s long-term commitment for voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of the Rohingyas to Myanmar, according to a joint press release.
Both sides stressed the importance of good governance, human rights and media freedom for any functioning democracy and also for Bangladesh’s economic and social development.
Bangladesh stressed the importance of an efficient decision-making process for UK visa applications for its nationals, particularly for students and businessmen.
The UK restated its commitment to maintain a high quality service for Bangladeshi nationals at the visa application centres in Dhaka and Sylhet.
Both sides also discussed the issue of the proposed cross-border higher education rules, which, if implemented, will allow UK universities to operate in Bangladesh.
The two countries also agreed to consider more ways to encourage Bangladeshi students to study in the UK.
Bangladesh highlighted concerns of the British curry industry on the shortage of skilled workers and the proposed wage structure as part of the future immigration white paper.
Qualified Bangladesh chefs might seek tier-2 visa, the British official said.
Both sides also agreed to work for increase in bilateral trade and investment.
The two countries also discussed future development partnership, migration and security and defence cooperation, and regional and global issues of mutual interest.
Foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque said the dialogue was ‘very productive’ and there were ‘fruitful exchange of notes’.
This was the third strategic dialogue between the United Kingdom and Bangladesh.
The first dialogue was hosted by Bangladesh in March 2017 and the second took place in London in March 2018.
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