Switzerland is a “serious global player” and “a reliable partner” of Bangladesh, Swiss Ambassador in Dhaka Nathalie Chuard on Wednesday said as the two countries celebrate 50 years of bilateral relations this year.
“We have been a longstanding, reliable and effective economic and development partner of Bangladesh since the birth of your country. Our cooperation started with humanitarian aid in the early 70s. Rapidly, the relationship grew into many other branches. Over time, economic and development cooperation has emerged as a solid pillar of our relations,” she said while speaking at the ‘DCAB Talk’ – a meet the reporters’ event of Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh.
“Today, economic cooperation is a keystone for us. Our bilateral trade volume has expanded incredibly over the last decade and even more so during the challenging time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, our trade surpassed the $1 billion mark for the first time,” he said.
DCAB President Rezaul Karim Lotus and General Secretary AKM Moinuddin spoke at the event held at Jatiya Press Club.
In her speech, the ambassador focused on the activities and priorities of Switzerland in Bangladesh and how the relations can be deepened for a shared future.
Replying to a question, she, however, said any estimate on deposits of Bangladeshi money in the Swiss banks is “purely speculative” and no conclusion can be drawn based on media or other reports.
“Switzerland is not a safe haven for corrupt money,” she said, adding “When it comes to the Bangladeshi money deposited in the Swiss banks the deposits meant by individuals (and) represent only one aspect of various sources of public and private funds.”
“Switzerland receives considerable goodwill from the people in Bangladesh,” she said.
Switzerland is located in the heart of Europe. But it is not a member of the EU or NATO. The country shares with the European Union and its member states close historical, cultural and economic ties.
“When it comes to our specificities though, there are three elements – or three values –that particularly matter to me when I describe Switzerland: Our humanitarian tradition, our commitment to multilateralism and our neutrality,” she said.
“Switzerland is proud to be recognised as a responsible global player. The promotions of human rights, our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and gender equality as well as environmental sustainability are some of our priorities, at home and also in our engagement globally.
“We have a diversified and robust economy that thrives on innovation, R&D and competitiveness. The financial sector, particularly in banking, is one of the cornerstones of the Swiss economy and one of the most important and internationally-oriented. It is also constantly evolving to do more and better, in terms of contributing and shaping global standards or taking steps towards greater sustainability,” she said.
“The picture regarding our Swiss banks is not a static one. It has evolved, and quite rapidly over the last years.
“The same goes for other issues. Our world also evolves constantly and right now, one crisis has collided with the next. While we are still in the period of COVID-19 recovery, we are also facing other unprecedented challenges: climate change and, for the last months, Russia’s attack on Ukraine as well as looming economic uncertainties.
“In this era of globalization and interdependence, a crisis affecting a country, its people and a region can become a serious global challenge. We see it now: what is happening in Europe has far-reaching consequences and implications – including here in Bangladesh.”
“Switzerland has a long tradition as a neutral and independent state. Being neutral does not mean being indifferent. We will continue to engage with our partners, including Bangladesh, to build consensus, stand up for a rules-based order as well as advocate for global peace and prosperity,” she said.
Despite the ongoing global uncertainties, trade between Bangladesh and Switzerland continues to maintain a robust growth in 2022.
“Swiss investors have a considerable footprint in this country and operate in essential sectors. They offer and provide innovative, high-quality and environmentally friendly products, technologies and services to the local market,” she said.
“With the graduation from the Least Developed Countries category approaching, Bangladesh is at a crossroads. Equipped with Swiss expertise and forte in technology, innovation and R&D, we stand ready to expand our economic partnership with you to make this transformative journey smooth and sustainable, leaving no one behind.
“Solidarity is an underlying aspect in our bilateral relations. Switzerland has proven to be a committed, effective and innovative development partner, investing over $1 billion in international cooperation in this country in the last five decades.
“More recently, during the pandemic, my country rolled out a comprehensive package to provide immediate assistance to the most vulnerable communities - who remain the focus of our development cooperation - and strengthen their socio-economic resilience.
“Last December, we launched our new country program for the years 2022-2025. This plan is fully aligned with the Agenda 2030 - that both our countries have embraced - and also Bangladesh’s development priorities.”
On the Rohingya issue, she said since 2017, Switzerland has been engaged with Bangladesh and on the international stage and, besides being one of the highest per capita contributors, we remain committed to supporting refugees and host communities until a sustainable, voluntary, safe and dignified return is possible.
“It is therefore essential, under the current circumstances, to keep hopes alive and provide Rohingya with education and livelihood opportunities.”
“Bangladesh and Switzerland have been working together in many aspects and we are convinced that we can and will continue to strengthen our ties.
“To mark the golden jubilee of our bilateral relations, the President of Switzerland extended his greetings to the President and Prime Minister of Bangladesh in March this year. Highlighting our stronger than ever partnership, he underlined key areas for future collaboration, including COVID-19 recovery, peace and prosperity, climate change and sustainable development.
“Looking ahead, I am very confident about the course of our bilateral relations,” she said.
“We will continue our committed partnership with Bangladesh towards the next stage of its socio-economic development. To this end, good governance, respect and promotion of human rights, empowerment and inclusion of women and minority groups, as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation, will remain at the heart of our action and development cooperation,” she said.
“We will also work with drivers of change such as women and youth and focus on strengthening civil society voices and participation to provide checks and balances, which are key for sustainability and inclusivity.
“We are keen to reinforce our engagement with Bangladesh on SDGs since they remain our compass for the years to come. In that regard, one SDG that is particularly dear to our hearts is SDG 16 – peace, justice and strong institutions - since it is so closely interlinked with other SDGs. Indeed, without peace, justice and inclusion, achieving goals such as ending poverty, ensuring education, promoting economic growth seem difficult or even impossible.
“Multilateralism matters, now more than ever, especially for countries like ours. In June this year, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly elected Switzerland as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2023-2024.
“Dialogue, confidence building and consensus-seeking are in our DNA. That is in this spirit that we want to engage on the UN Security Council and we are looking forward to working with Bangladesh to pursue our collective actions in favor of peace, international law, sustainable development and human rights in the multilateral fora.
“But let me be clear here. This will not be an easy task: taken into account the numerous global challenges which we are facing, cooperation is essential. It is only with persistence and focusing on our shared commitments that we can really make a difference,” she said.