Economic diplomacy

Economic diplomacy

Md. Joynal Abdin

The Daily Star on August 31, 2009

DIGITAL Bangladesh is what the election manifesto of the present government had pledged. The people elected the AL-led alliance so that they can implement their pre-election commitment, not so that they can explain the meaning of Digital Bangladesh.

Digital Bangladesh is not an impossible goal to achieve. To digitise, Bangladesh needs a series of reforms in almost every sector. It should be easier for the government, enjoying more than three-fourths majority in parliament, to go for these reforms. The government has to utilise this opportunity to fulfill its Vision 2021.

To begin with, the government has to give legal validity to e-documents, e-mail and e-communication. It requires processing all files, barring the confidential ones, online, so that an applicant can know from the website which stage of processing his or her file is in, or who has it . All government ministries, agencies and divisions have to be transparent to root out corruption. It would require massive reforms.

But without economic development, Digital Bangladesh will not be sustainable. For economic development, foreign policy has to stress on economic diplomacy. To get a strategic platform to exploit the coming multilateral regime, Bangladesh has to prioritise country promotion and trade promotion, attract investment, and utilise and obtain technology — along with managing better external economic assistance.

To attract foreign investment, Bangladesh needs to project a positive image abroad. Branding Bangladesh is essential, as without a brand image it will not be easy to get foreign investment. The government should promote the country abroad, which is the primary objective of economic diplomacy. The image of a country affects its trade, global politics, and international relations.

Economic diplomacy has to promote Bangladesh to mobilise investment, promote tourism and better manage national image. Investment mobilisation calls for a global presence of competent Bangladeshi companies or internationalisation of local companies. Bangladesh has to develop its tourist spots and their infrastructure to attract foreign tourists.

To project a positive national image, the political leaders have to be careful about what they say regarding the country. They should know that the world media report whatever they say. Their statements can and do damage the image of the country. Promotional activities in the world media are needed to project a good image abroad..

Foreign relations, bilateral, regional or global, can be affected by a country’s image. The foreign ministry, the embassies and diplomats of the country are responsible for the projection of a “correct” image of Bangladesh abroad. But their capacity to project a positive country image, or to change the undue negative perception, is limited.

The diplomats abroad have to be proactive rather than reactive. The foreign ministry has to give importance to promoting business abroad by promoting trade fairs, investors’ conferences and dialogues between Bangladeshi and foreign investors. The missions abroad have to be facilitators of joint business councils between Bangladesh and other countries.

A positive national image can better promote Bangladesh products and services abroad and help create a brand image of the country’s products in the consumers’ minds. It would facilitate better market access. Salesmanship, networking and regulatory management would facilitate the export of commodities, services and projects. Value creation of products is essential.

The missions abroad have to identify the demand for Bangladesh products in the host country market and facilitate interactions between their importers and Bangladeshi exporters to promote export to that country.

A leading least developed country (LDC), Bangladesh should go for economic diplomacy to attract foreign investment.

Before the agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) comes into force to make technology costlier, Bangladesh should concentrate on obtaining technology for industrialisation.

Industrialisation will need infrastructure development, better utility services and other logistics support. All these require money. The government has to mobilise resources from domestic as well as foreign sources. The World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Aid for Trade to the LDCs, could be a good source. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, can also be approached.

Newer opportunities created by globalisation should be availed of, in order to achieve progress as other nations did in the previous decades.

The decision-makers must be pro-active rather than re-active in their action. Despite having promising potential for growth, Bangladesh continues to lag behind its competitors for missing out the opportunities and because of indecision of the policy makers.

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Published by

Md. Joynal Abdin

Development Researcher, Columnist and Author

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