Switzerland wants to strengthen and widen its ties with Bangladesh to explore ‘amazing potential’ together as Bangladesh is set to celebrate its 50 years of independence next year with Vision 2041 in place, says its envoy in Dhaka.
"Our relationship is very strong. My overall priority and overarching goal is to strengthen and widen this relationship, and it’s pursued in different domains," Switzerland’s Ambassador to Bangladesh Nathalie Chuard told UNB in an interview at her residence.
She said they aim to boost economic and trade relations between the two countries as both sides have the interest to do so.
"We see so much potential, be it from Bangladesh or be it from Switzerland. So, definitely, this is one of the priorities," said the Ambassador during her first interaction with the media since her arrival in May this year.
According to Swiss statistics, bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Switzerland has more than tripled since 2010 and stood at around $850 million last year.
Most of the major Swiss multinational companies, as well as a number of small and medium enterprises, are present in Bangladesh. The number of Swiss companies doing business with or in Bangladesh is around 100 now.
Ambassador Chuard said she really looks forward to having "open and forward-looking dialogue" with Bangladesh on issues that are very important for both the countries.
The issues include sustainable development goals (SDGs), migration, multilateralism and human rights.
Touching upon another priority, the Swiss Ambassador said development cooperation with Bangladesh remains one of the priorities.
"We’re now planning our future Country Programme 2022-2025 and our objectives are aligned with the SDGs and Bangladesh’s priorities," said Ambassador Chuard adding that they really want to continue working with Bangladesh on issues ensuring inclusive growth, equality and prosperity for all.
Swiss investments in Bangladesh are mainly concentrated in chemicals, pharmaceuticals, construction, technical services and fast-moving consumer goods.
Almost all top Swiss multinational companies are present in Bangladesh and continuously expanding their portfolios.
According to the Bangladesh Bank, Swiss investment inflow to Bangladesh during fiscal year 2020 stood at around US$45 million.
"I really hope that Swiss companies present here can play a role of Business Ambassadors and also show that things are good, and there’re potentials for companies to invest in Bangladesh, provided there’s a level playing field," said the Swiss Ambassador.
Responding to a question, the envoy said Bangladesh has improved a lot in terms of infrastructure facilities.
She thinks Swiss companies, which are interested in the Bangladeshi market, will listen to their counterparts’ testimonies on the ground situation.
"I hope that economic relations will deepen during my tenure here," said the Swiss Ambassador noting that progress is there in terms of business climate improvement and the government is embarking on many initiatives.
Ambassador Chuard, however, said there is still room for Bangladesh to see further improvement in ease of doing business with legal security and business predictability in place for foreign investment.
"Once Swiss and foreign companies have a positive experience, they’ll continue to further expand their business. I see a lot of progress and positive intentions from the authorities. We’ll continue to have discussions in order to have effective solutions for the companies to the problems they usually face," she said.
Ambassador Chuard said the growing trade and investment brings a win-win situation for both, contributing to a prosperous Bangladesh.
Further improvement in the business climate will encourage new companies to come and invest here, she said.
The growth trajectory of such a young nation like Bangladesh is "very impressive" though there are numerous challenges, said Ambassador Chuard.
She said the second meeting between the inter-agency Committee of Bangladesh and Switzerland was held in Dhaka recently and discussed the trade and economic issues.
"It was a very positive meeting and we addressed some specific business issues, including business climate," said the Ambassador.
The Swiss envoy said she is very convinced that more companies will invest in Bangladesh and saw a very much supportive approach from the government side of Bangladesh.
Ambassador Chuard said she is very optimistic to see Bangladesh is getting back on track after the first wave of Covid-19. "We’re very impressed with the resilience and potential of Bangladesh."
She said it is a very important moment not in Bangladesh but also in the entire world as every nation is facing the same health challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Nobody is safe until everyone is safe. We would like to see Bangladesh and everybody else safe," said Ambassador Chuard, the first foreign envoy who arrived in Bangladesh soon after the pandemic had begun.
She said they reallocated resources amounting Tk 70 crore to respond to the crisis. "Switzerland has been standing in solidarity with Bangladesh to help it during this unprecedented global crisis."
The Ambassador said the solidarity is still there and it has not finished. "Still, we’ve projects ongoing to address the needs of vulnerable people."
She said the Swiss companies in Bangladesh also played a very important role since the beginning of Covid-19.
50 Years of Bangladesh
Switzerland recognised Bangladesh as an independent country on March 13, 1972 and established diplomatic relations. Bangladesh is going to celebrate its 50 years of independence next year.
Ambassador Chuard said celebrating the 50 years of the country's independence is a very important occasion.
"It's also an important milestone for us as our relations exist from the very beginning of Bangladesh's independence." she said adding that there are lots of things to learn from Bangladesh.
Traditionally, the Ambassador said, their relationship with Bangladesh is very much focused on development cooperation, humanitarian aid but it has now grown to many other areas and branches-economic, political and in cultural domains.
"Bangladesh has adopted Vision 2041 and really seeks further development. That's very fascinating. I’m very honoured and excited to be here at such a time," she said.
The Swiss Ambassador said the Vision is very important for inclusive and environment-friendly growth so that everyone can benefit from that growth.