Dutch presence in our part of the world could be traced back to the 17th century when Dutch traders arrived in these lands to establish trading posts and factories. In modern time, since the independence of Bangladesh, bilateral relations between Bangladesh and the Netherlands have developed with particular emphasis on the Dutch support to Bangladesh’s efforts in social and economic development. However, in recent time, bilateral relations between the two countries are going through a transition from traditional development cooperation-driven relationship to broad-based partnership for sustainable development.
Bangladesh and the Netherlands have a long history of cooperation, which started even before the independence of Bangladesh (e.g., water cooperation commenced in 1965). Bilateral relations grew steadily since the Netherlands became one of the first countries in Europe to recognize Bangladesh as an independent country (on 11 February 1972) and established their Embassy in Dhaka and commenced its development assistance thereafter for socio-economic development of Bangladesh. On the other hand, Bangladesh opened its resident Mission in The Hague on 7 November 1995 at Ambassadorial level.
The bilateral relations between Bangladesh and the Netherlands catapulted to the zenith following the two very important visits, back to back, in a space of less than a month. Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid an official visit to the Netherlands on 3-5 November 2015 at the invitation of the Dutch Prime Minister H.E. Mark Rutte. This was the first-ever official visit by a Head of Government of Bangladesh to the Netherlands. During the visit, both Bangladesh and Dutch Prime Ministers acknowledged that there exists immense scope of cooperation between the two countries in the areas of delta management, water resources management and other related areas. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands assured of extending all cooperation to Bangladesh for implementation of Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 (BDP 2100) to make the delta safe and productive for the people. The two Prime Ministers also agreed to work together to make densely populated delta areas across the world safer and economically more viable in the framework of the Delta Coalition. The two sides expressed the wish to increase bilateral trade and investment. The two Prime Ministers also agreed to forge closer cooperation in the United Nations and other international fora on issues of mutual interest, including continued efforts to the implementation of the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Apart from the official visit to the Netherlands, Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina held bilateral meetings with the Dutch Prime Minister H.E. Mr Mark Rutte on 2 December 2019 in Madrid on the sidelines of the COP25 and on 29 September 2015 in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to discuss matters of mutual interests.
The Queen of the Netherlands Her Majesty Máxima visited Bangladesh on 16-18 November 2015, in her role as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, at the invitation of the Government of Bangladesh. Queen Máxima again visited Bangladesh on 9-11 July 2019. The Dutch Queen visited Bangladesh to appreciate and promote people’s access to financial services in Bangladesh. Hon’ble Prime Minister held meetings with the Dutch Queen during her visits to Bangladesh in November 2015 and July 2019, Hon’ble Prime Minister’s official visit to the Netherlands in November 2015, and in New York in September 2015, September 2017 and September 2018 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
The bilateral relations between Bangladesh and the Netherlands reached a new height when two Dutch Ministers – Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and Minister for Infrastructure and Water Management – jointly undertook a historic visit to Bangladesh on 14-18 June 2015. During the visit, both the two countries signed three important bilateral instruments – MoU on Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 (tripartite with the World Bank), Letter of Intent on Land Reclamation & Land Accretion in Bangladesh and Framework of Intent on Partnership on Knowledge and Innovation for Sustainable Development.
The Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation H.E. Ms Sigrid Kaag visited Bangladesh and Myanmar in the first week of November 2018 to gain personal insight into the Rohingya crisis, the authorities’ response and the humanitarian aid. During the visit, the Dutch Minister called on the Hon’ble Prime Minister, and at the meeting, she assured the Netherlands’ continued support to Bangladesh’s development efforts and further boost cooperation with Bangladesh in the fields of trade and development apart from BDP 2100.
Bangladesh and the Netherlands have an institutional arrangement – Foreign Office Consultations (FOC) at the Foreign Secretary/ Secretary-General level – to take stock of existing bilateral cooperation and identify new areas of cooperation. The two countries so far held three rounds of FOC, the first round in The Hague on 10 September 2015, the second in Dhaka on 31 May 2016 and the third in The Hague on 20 February 2018. The fourth round of FOC is expected to be held in Dhaka soon to review the ways to strengthen existing bilateral relations and explore identifying new areas of collaboration.
Bangladesh and the Netherlands have robust economic cooperatiom. The Dutch government provides development assistance to Bangladesh in the form of grants and technical assistance. Bangladesh is one of the Netherlands’ 15 development cooperation partner countries, falling into profile 3 (‘broad-based relationship’), which covers countries experiencing healthy economic growth whose need for development assistance is likely to decrease over time. The Dutch development programme targets markets, where the Netherlands can offer Bangladesh specific added value, focusing on water, food security and sexual and reproductive health, within which good governance, gender and climate change are highlighted. Dutch assistance is provided through Government-to-Government Agreements, Co-financing through international organisations, and NGOs and civil societies.
Bangladesh and the Netherlands maintain an excellent bilateral trade and investment relationship. The Netherlands stood the 9th largest export destination of Bangladeshi goods in FY 2019-2020 worth of US$ 1098.68. Bangladesh’s major export products to the Netherlands are knitwear, woven garments, shrimps and prawns, footwear, home textiles, leather products, bicycles, etc. Bangladesh imported goods from the Netherlands worth of €267.0 million in 2019. Bangladesh imports machineries, vegetable products, live animals, prepared food stuffs, animal or vegetable fats and oils, mineral products, chemical products, pharmaceutical products, organic chemicals, plastic and rubber articles, etc. from the Netherlands.
The Dutch were among the pioneers with regard to foreign private investment in Bangladesh. Dutch companies like Unilever, Philips, Organon, Shell, etc. were active in Bangladesh from very early years of our independence.The Netherlands is currently Bangladesh’s 4th largest FDI source country with an investment stock of US$ 1400.20 million, as of June 2019. The net Dutch investment amounting to US$ 802.84 million alone came in Bangladesh in 2018-2019. In recent years, the Dutch investment mainly concentrated in power, trade, leather and leather products, cement, etc. sectors.
Bangladesh and the Netherlands have robust sectoral cooperation, particularly in water (participatory water management in polders in the coastal zone, river management, drinking water and sanitation in rural and urban areas, and strengthening of key water institutions of Bangladesh), delta management, agriculture (integrated food and nutrition security), maritime development including port development, private sector development, education and training, etc. The most notable cooperation between Bangladesh and the Netherlands presently remains the formulation and implementation of Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100. The Dutch government provided technical assistance to Bangladesh in formulating BDP 2100, a comprehensive, integrated, holistic, and long-term plan for a safe and secure Bangladesh delta with sustained economic growth. The Dutch government remains committed to support Bangladesh to implement BDP 2100 as well.
Bangladesh and the Netherlands closely cooperate under the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA), launched in The Hague on 16 October 2018, to elevate the political visibility of climate change adaptation and to focus on solutions. Both the countries also closely cooperate under the framework of Delta Coalition, launched in the Netherlands on 10 May 2016, to deal with inclusive sustainable development in urbanizing deltas, combining economic development with adaptation and preventive measures reducing climate change risks and strengthening resilience.
Bangladesh and the Netherlands maintain close cooperate in different international and multilateral organisations, including the United Nations, Human Rights Council, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), International Criminal Court (ICC), Permanent Court of Arbitration, Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), etc. Bangladesh and the Netherlands work closely on multilateral and international issues, including 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, international peace and security, climate change, and repatriation of forcibly displaced Rohingya people, etc.