Interview with ATN Bangla

Geoffrey Pyatt
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Dhaka, Bangladesh
February 11, 2011

QUESTION: So, is this your first visit to Bangladesh?

MR. PYATT: It is. I’ve spent a lot of time working in South Asia and living in South Asia but it’s my very first visit to Dhaka. I’m very happy to be here. This is a very exciting time in the U.S.-Bangladesh relationship. We have excellent ties with the government, but there’s also great possibilities in terms of the economic relationship. I was delighted this morning to spend some time with some of our leading American companies at the American Chamber of Commerce and to see all of the American companies that are displaying our U.S. trade show here. It’s very clear that everybody recognizes that there is great possibility on Bangladesh. This is a successful country. And we want very much to be Bangladesh’s partner moving forward.

QUESTION: The U.S. Bangladesh relation is very friendly and cordial. How do you define the relation between the U.S. and Bangladesh especially in the [inaudible] context and the global context?

MR. PYATT: That’s a great question. We have a relationship that rests on a variety of pillars. Bangladesh is an important partner on issues like food security, global health. Bangladesh is also a very partner of the United States in United Nations peacekeeping and we have a great appreciation for the role of the Bangladesh armed forces in the UN peacekeeping efforts. We also, as I said, we would like to do much more in the economic area. Our companies here see great possibilities in Bangladesh as the economy continues to move forward and advance. Bangladesh is a partner on global issues. Questions like trafficking in persons, climate change. We enjoy a good, frank dialogue with the Bangladesh government on this. One of the things that sets Bangladesh apart, which I am especially eager to learn more about this visit, is your civil society. A lot of the economic strength of Bangladesh comes from the grass roots. And that’s something that sets you apart. And I’m delighted that I’ll be able to spend some time this afternoon meeting with some social entrepreneurs, young leaders of the NGOs that are working at the grassroots level to move Bangladesh ahead on issues like development. I’m particularly honored that I will be able to meet later in this visit with Muhammad Yunus. Dr. Yunus is, of course, a Nobel Prize winner and a recipient of the Presidential Medal. But more than that, he personifies the success of Bangladesh’s civil society and NGOs, and that grassroots dynamism that I referred to. And so I’m very eager to learn more about Grameen Bank, and the ways in which Grameen has helped to both improve the brand of Bangladesh but also to propel this process of economic development that’s so important for both of U.S..

QUESTION: You are talking of development. You may know that even in this world recession Bangladesh is consistently more than 5 1/2, almost six percent growth last two decades. And, from the last year, Bangladesh got some international recognition like Standard & Poor’s [inaudible] rating and so on. How do you evaluate Bangladesh economy?

MR. PYATT: Very strongly. And may I add, in addition to the ratings you refer to, Bangladesh’s strong performance in meeting some of the Millennium Development Goals. And it reflects the importance of grassroots development. Lifting up Bangladesh from the bottom up. We see great possibility. As that growth process takes place, there are opportunities for American businesses to do more in Bangladesh. But American companies also want to be partners with Bangladesh in meeting some of the key bottlenecks. Things like power, where Bangladesh obviously has to do more in order to sustain that process of economic growth you refer to. And ensure that the benefits of that growth go to the very lowest levels.

QUESTION: Can you give a sense, do you have any program to help solve our things like infrastructure, power and others?

MR. PYATT: Bangladesh is a very important development partner for the United States. In fact, Bangladesh is the only country which is a partner with the United States on all of the key Presidential Initiatives in areas like food security, global health, HIV/AIDS. So we’re delighted to partner in that area. Some of the other issues you refer to, for instance power and infrastructure, in those areas it’s less U.S. government and more American private sector and America companies. Delighted that we have, one of our big energy companies is partnering to help Bangladesh develop to the full capacity its gas resources. And we would like to see more of that kind of partnership involving our private companies coming to Bangladesh, bringing their technology, bringing their investment, and bringing their know-how to help drive the economy.

QUESTION: Do you find any difficulties to invest in Bangladesh?

MR. PYATT: Bangladesh is a developing country. So of course there are always going to be challenges. Things like infrastructure. The issue of corruption is an important one to address over the long term. But Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi economy, rests on a solid foundation. And again, that civil society element that I talked about is critically important. The fact that you have organizations like Grameen, like BRAC, which involve the grassroots and can be good partners with the United States, good partners with our development organizations.

QUESTION: U.S. is the major trade partner, single largest export nation of Bangladesh. We are exporting almost four billion dollars of textiles and garment products to U.S. Our entrepreneur is eagerly demanding the duty-free access of their products in U.S. market which other countries, even Pakistan is doing some favor in terms of tariff. So, would you look some possibilities to give U.S. this type of tariff concession or similar?

MR. PYATT: Let me answer the question this way, Sanaul. I would start by saying, first of all, we are very pleased that Bangladesh is so successful as an apparel exporter to the United States. Bangladesh is the world’s third-largest exporter of apparel products after China and Turkey. And the United States has maintained its market open to Bangladeshi products. And I think that has been good for both countries. It’s good for American consumers. It’s also good for Bangladeshi apparel exporters. The question of tariff-free access is a very politically sensitive one. It’s a difficult, difficult issue, and I would be giving you the wrong impression by suggesting that there was likely to be a breakthrough any time soon. That said, we’re committed to keeping our market open to Bangladeshi apparel exports. We also encourage over the long term the further diversification of Bangladesh’s economy. It’s important to note that, as you said, our trade relationship is a strong one. We have almost five billion dollars in two-way trade at this point. And the most interesting thing to me, if you look at the most recent trade numbers, Bangladesh’s exports to the United States, in the most recent period, grew by 30 percent. And I expect that growth to become even stronger.

QUESTION: Your exports also grow by about 50 percent.

MR. PYATT: Exactly. That’s the best, that’s the best part of this. It’s a two-way street. A win-win scenario. And I expect that the strength of Bangladeshi exports to the United States will grow even further as the U.S. economic recovery proceeds.

QUESTION: So, how do you look our democracy, political systems? And in Bangladesh there are the election already happen. We have an elected government now. But still the opposition and government parties are not feeling so comfortable to sit in parliament, the opposition is not in parliament since parliament is going on.

MR. PYATT: I would say this. First of all, Bangladeshis should be very proud of your democracy. And this is a democracy as the most recent elections proved. Obviously, the quality of democracy over the long term is determined by the quality of full participation in that democratic process. That means that all political parties need to be heard. Debate needs to be civil. It should take place in Parliament and in that Parliament all parties need to have a voice and need to participate in the debate over the country’s future. The thing which is encouraging to me is that Bangladesh’s democracy rests on this solid foundation of grassroots civil society strength. And that suggests to me that Bangladesh’s democracy over the long term will go from strength to strength, and will get even deeper roots.

QUESTION: One thing that we have is a number of Bangladeshis in U.S. and almost 1.5 billion dollars are coming from U.S. How do you look Bangladesh community there. How do you care them, because they are now doing better in professions and even in politics.

MR. PYATT: Yes. Exactly. We have our first Bangladeshi-American member of Congress.

QUESTION: How do you think of Bangladeshi people there?

MR. PYATT: I’ll say this. One of the really exciting things about being responsible for our relations with the countries of all South Asia is the strength of the Diaspora communities. We have a very strong Bangladeshi-American community, a strong Indian-American community. We have a strong Pakistani-American community. We are a nation of immigrants. And as you note, the Bangladeshi-American community, like other immigrant communities, is both embedding itself in our country, contributing to our economy, contributing to the vibrancy of our society, but they’re also becoming increasingly successful in areas like politics. And I think that reflects the hard work, the entrepreneurial energy that Bangladeshis bring with them when they come to the United States. That’s something that we appreciate greatly and we have great respect for. So I think it’s one more strength to our bilateral relationship. Because many times these Diaspora communities can be very helpful both in educating Americans about what Bangladesh is about, and also educating Bangladeshis, when they come back to visit their family members, they can explain the United States. Because both countries are complicated, with our own politics and our own media, and active debates. And so I see these Diaspora communities as a very important partner of the fabric of ties that bring our two countries together.

QUESTION: Our time is short. The last question, because you are the first time in Bangladesh, what is your first impression about Bangladesh?

MR. PYATT: My, I would say two impressions. One, it’s a very big, Dhaka is a very big city with a lot of traffic. I’m also very excited to see the, all the anticipation around the Cricket world cup, all of the hoardings and buses and everything else. I’m very sorry I’m going to miss the opening match with India and I wish Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi team good luck throughout the whole series.

QUESTION: And another, the last question I want to make. Because U.S. and Bangladesh are most friendly country. And do you think any possibilities for visit Mr. Barack Obama to Bangladesh or Miss Hillary Clinton, who is a real friend to Bangladesh, we think.

MR. PYATT: It’s a very kind invitation and I’ll be sure that people in Washington are aware of it. I, obviously I honestly can’t make any predictions at this point about when they might be traveling to South Asia again.

QUESTION: Do you think, do you come again in Bangladesh?

MR. PYATT: I will certainly be back. This is a, for me, a short visit, just three days. I’m looking forward to learning as much as I possibly can about Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi economy, Bangladeshi politics. But I will certainly be back, no question.

QUESTION: So thank you very much for being with us. I really thank you for giving me this time.

MR. PYATT: I’m delighted, it’s my pleasure, Sanaul. Thank you.