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“The Indo-Pacific region is our frame of reference for the world”: Australian High Commissioner

In his four-year diplomatic odyssey Jeremy Bruer faced global pandemic, improved trade and bilateral relations, connected two nations and million lives through his work as the 17th High Commissioner of Australia in Bangladesh. Ziaul Karim, the Advisory Editor of COLORS Business Magazine, had a lively exclusive conversation with the High Commissioner discussing the highs, lows, and the profound impact of his diplomatic odyssey concluding his posting to Bangladesh

The bilateral trade between Australia and Bangladesh amounts to an impressive 4 billion dollars during the tenure of Jeremy Bruer, Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, positioning Bangladesh at the 32nd rank alongside Australia in terms of trade volume. 

H,E. Jeremy Bruer

Navigating Unprecedented Challenges

“I’ve enjoyed my posting very much and the proof of that is in the fact that I sought an extension of a year on my original term here,’’ said the consul. In January 2020  Jeremy Bruer undertook his position. Soon the pandemic COVID-19 struck the world and enveloped Bangladesh, right when he was about to settle for office. Facing the global upheaval brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, he acknowledges the difficulties posed by restrictions, saying, “Days after presenting credentials, I found myself prevented from meeting the people I needed to engage with due to pandemic restrictions. It was not optimal, professionally or personally.” About his journey as a whole the envoy reflected on the complexities of his diplomatic tenure,“It’s been an experience with both challenges and successes.’

Strategic Milestones: Trade and Defence Adviser’s Office

Amidst these challenges, the diplomat takes pride in strategic accomplishments.

“Despite the hurdles, we’ve managed to make significant strides in advancing the trade relationship between Australia and Bangladesh,” the High Commissioner asserts. Australia was one of the first nations to officially recognise Bangladesh as an independent country on 31 January 1972. On 13 March 1972, the former deputy high commissioner in Dhaka and chargé d’affaires of the Australian mission since the establishment of diplomatic relations, Jim Allen, was appointed as Australia’s first Ambassador to Bangladesh, which was quickly upgraded to the rank of high commissioner following Bangladesh’s admission to the Commonwealth of Nations on 18 April 1972. Highlighting a significant development in the bilateral relationship the consul states, “We successfully established a Defence Adviser’s office in our mission here, signalling a deepening of our relationship and a recognition of its multifaceted nature.”

Cultural Connections: Beyond Diplomacy

Beyond the formalities of diplomacy, the discussion delves into the softer aspects of cultural exchange. “Personal relationships and the warmth of the people will be missed the most,” the High Commissioner reflects on the intangible but lasting impact of the posting. He also recognized the passion and enthusiasm of Bangladeshi people saying,”You can feel the pulse of Bangladesh in its streets, and the ambition and aspirations of its people are palpable. That’s what I love most about this country.” He mentioned Bangladeshi chef  Kishwar Chowdhury who has won millions of hearts with her indigenous food in MasterChef Australia. According to him, she introduced Australians to the idea of Bengali cuisine. He added, “Cuisine is an essential part, a foundational part of culture. And when you start to taste the food in another country, you begin to think about it already without even knowing that you’re doing so in ways that are different.”  

Australia’s Growing Understanding

Australia is the 16th largest remittance sourcing destination for Bangladesh. The 2021 Census recorded more than 51,000 people born in Bangladesh living in Australia, up from 41,000 in 2016. About influencing Australia’s perception of Bangladesh, the High Commissioner adopted a modest tone. “I hesitate to claim too much credit, but there has undoubtedly been a maturing in our understanding of Bangladesh.” According to statista in every 1000 immigrants, 6.35 are Bangladeshi. In Australia, migrants contribute $330 billion to GDP. Migration is replacing fertility as the primary driver of population growth in developed countries worldwide and Australia is one such country buoyed by migration with more than half (54.3 per cent) of the 1.4 per cent annual population growth attributable to migration. Recognising the impact of Bangladesh’s achievements and its resilient spirit, Mr Bruer remarked, “The growing Bangladeshi community in Australia, around 80,000 strong, has played a crucial role in fostering a broader understanding of Bangladesh.”

Trade Growth and Diversification

Bangladesh has achieved impressive economic growth in the last decade (averaging over six per cent each year) and is scheduled to graduate from Least Developed Country status in 2026.. The economic landscape takes center stage as the High Commissioner explores the growth in trade between the two nations. Bangladesh and Australia have witnessed a substantial expansion in bilateral trade over the past decade, reaching approximately $4 billion annually. Bangladesh now ranks as Australia’s 32nd largest trading partner. Looking to the future, Bruer sees potential beyond traditional exports, stating, “There’s scope for much further growth given our geographic proximity, especially in sectors like food, education services, and the exploration of jute products.”

A Sustainable Future

As climate change becomes a global priority, the High Commissioner discusses collaborative solutions for a sustainable future. “Both Australia and Bangladesh are vulnerable to climate change, and we see it as a key economic and security challenge,” the diplomat states. Expressing Australia’s commitment to becoming a clean energy superpower, he added, “We are very keen to support Bangladesh’s own efforts. We have just seen COP and I think that increasingly the world is sort of sharpening its focus and sharpening its efforts.” In areas of collaboration, including technology transfer and a focus on low-emission technologies like green hydrogen, the envoy emphasizes, “We’ve got quite a good record of having reduced our emissions over the last 20 years or so. And in Bangladesh, we think some of those technological solutions might be available even in the transition phase.  We’d be happy to share experiences between Australia and Bangladesh. We’d welcome technology transfer between our two countries in relation to those issues. Increasingly that would include low emission technologies like green hydrogen, which is something there’s a lot of investment in Australia at the moment, which I think there’s a lot of work being done.”

Nurturing Relationships

Education emerges as a cornerstone for building lasting connections between the two nations. According to the latest UNESCO data, a total of 52,799 Bangladeshi students went abroad for study in 2023, with the highest number of 8,524 students going to the US, followed by 6,586 to the UK, 5,835 to Canada, 5,714 to Malaysia, 5,046 to Germany, 4,987 to Australia.”I suppose one of the things that any diplomat wants to see is greater connections between people. And I see education as being one of the best ways of doing that. The increasing number of Bangladeshi students studying in Australia is a testament to the strength of our educational ties. If you can create an environment in which somebody can travel from one country, spend time in that other country, understand its culture and get something positive from it in return, then I think we’re going a long way towards doing that,” the High Commissioner observes. Discussing joint campuses and diploma programs, the envoy states, “It has a development impact as well, so if the person then returns with skill or knowledge that they can then apply in a way that helps drive the development, say, of Bangladesh, then you’ve got a kind of a win-win situation. So we support that very strongly.” These initiatives act as pathways for students to gain international exposure while contributing to the development of both countries.

Investment Opportunities: A Two-Way Street

Two-way trade between Bangladesh and Australia grew at an average of over 11 per cent per year over the last decade with the garment sector, education, agriculture and food and beverages leading this growth. As a Least Developed Country, products from Bangladesh enter Australia duty-free and quota-free. According to the World Statistics Review 2019, Bangladesh achieved the second-highest export growth globally from 2008-2018, with an average annual export growth of 9.8%..Addressing the question of investment, the High Commissioner emphasizes the mutual benefits of increased foreign direct investment,”Investment in both directions would be very beneficial, helping consolidate commercial relationships and sustaining increased trade.” In addition to its world-renowned apparel sector, Bangladesh has proven to be competitive and demonstrated capacity in other industries such as leather goods and footwear, processed food, fish, and jute goods. The pharmaceutical and ICT industries have recently shown strong performances in exports and domestic production, with over 1200 pharmaceutical products registered for export to more than 100 countries, including the USA, UK, Australia, and Africa. The government has declared the ICT sector as a priority sector and set a target to reach a US$5 billion export value by 2021. Additionally, the shipbuilding and light engineering sectors are demonstrating impressive export potential. Highlighting key considerations for potential Australian investors, the diplomat thinks ease of doing business, secure repatriation of profits, and transparent dispute resolution mechanisms will play a key role.

A view of the future

As the High Commissioner prepares to bid farewell, the focus turns to the future of Australian-Bangladeshi relations. “Well, Australia thinks of the world in terms of the Indo-Pacific. It is our frame. We have the Indian Ocean on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other side. So, as I’ve said publicly on several occasions, when we look at the world, when things come to Australia, when people travel to Australia, when they travel from Australia when trade takes place in and out of Australia, it comes through the Indian Ocean, it comes through the Pacific Ocean and we want to see a peaceful, stable, prosperous and inclusive region,” the High Commissioner states.

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