Exploring Diplomatic Frontiers: Bangladesh FM’s Diplomatic Mission To Austria Unveiling Bilateral Discourse And Economic Prospects – Analysis


On April 29, 2024, Honorable Foreign Minister Dr. Hasan Mahmud, MP, engaged in bilateral discussions with Austrian Foreign Minister H.E. Alexander Schallenberg in Vienna. During the exchange, the Austrian Foreign Minister expressed interest in recruiting skilled labor from Bangladesh and exploring investment opportunities in our renewable energy sectors, notably wind power and waste-to-energy initiatives. Dr. Hasan Mahmud, MP, is currently undertaking a two-day visit to Vienna from April 28 to April 29, 2024, upon the invitation of the Austrian Foreign Minister, to participate in an international conference addressing Autonomous Weapon Systems.

The Republic of Austria and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh have maintained cordial relations since Bangladesh’s independence in 1971. The initiation of economic discussions in April 1997 marked the first official visit by an Austrian delegation following Bangladesh’s independence. Subsequent years witnessed ongoing efforts to bolster economic ties between the two nations. Presently, Austro-Bangladeshi economic relations are underpinned by the Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments (2001) and the Agreement on Bilateral Economic Relations and Economic, Industrial, and Technological Cooperation (2002). In February 2002, the inaugural meeting of the Austria-Bangladesh Joint Working Group convened. On June 7, 2021, a Bilateral Air Service Agreement was signed in Vienna. Numerous official visits from both sides epitomize the amicable rapport between Austria and Bangladesh. During the 5th World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, President of Parliament, visited Vienna in September 2021. In May 2019, a meeting between the Ministers of Justice Anisul Huq and Josef Moser transpired in Vienna. The most recent high-level Austrian visit to Bangladesh occurred in February 2019, with Minister of Foreign Affairs Karin Kneissl touring the country as part of her itinerary across four Asian nations. During her visit, the Minister engaged in bilateral discussions with President Abdul Hamid and Minister of Foreign Affairs A. K. Abdul Momen. On May 30, 2017, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attended the international conference of the IAEA in Vienna, holding bilateral meetings with Austrian Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen and Federal Chancellor Christian Kern. In April 2017, an Austrian Parliamentary Delegation participated in the 136th IPU Conference in Dhaka. In October 2016, Bangladeshi Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdul Hassan Mahmood Ali met with Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz and President of the Austrian Economic Chamber Christoph Leitl in Vienna. Austrian economic missions, comprising Austrian companies and members of the Austrian Trade Commission in New Delhi, visited Dhaka in February 2018 and February 2020. The Austrian Ambassador in New Delhi is also accredited to Bangladesh. Under the oversight of the Austrian Embassy in New Delhi, the Honorary Consulate in Dhaka caters to Austria’s consular interests in Bangladesh. In December 2009, the Austrian Economic Chamber established an office in Dhaka. In Austria, Bangladesh is represented by its Embassy in Vienna, established on November 1, 2014.

In 2022, Bangladesh recorded exports worth $302 million to Austria. The primary products exported from Bangladesh to Austria included Knit Women’s Suits ($76 million), Knit T-shirts ($52.7 million), and Non-Knit Men’s Suits ($38.2 million). Over the past 27 years, Bangladesh’s exports to Austria have experienced a steady growth, with an annualized increase of 10.8%, rising from $18.7 million in 1995 to $302 million in 2022. Conversely, in 2022, Austria exported goods worth $44.3 million to Bangladesh. The key items exported from Austria to Bangladesh comprised Electric Generating Sets ($16.7 million), Industrial Fatty Acids, Oils, and Alcohols ($3.33 million), and Other Sugars ($2.65 million). Over the same 27-year period, Austria’s exports to Bangladesh have demonstrated a moderate annualized growth rate of 4.61%, escalating from $13.1 million in 1995 to $44.3 million in 2022.

The surge in skilled worker migration from Bangladesh in 2023 marked a significant milestone, with records exceeding the previous high by 15%. Thirteen lakh workers secured employment in 137 countries last year, showcasing an increase from the previous record of 11.35 lakh in 2022, according to data from the Bureau of Manpower, Employment, and Training (BMET). Skilled worker migration saw a remarkable 22% increase by December 11, 2023, with Bangladesh placing 3.08 lakh skilled workers abroad, surpassing the 2.52 lakh mark set in 2022. Despite the dominance of unskilled migration, constituting 50% of total foreign jobs, skilled migration accounted for approximately 25%, showcasing a growing trend towards skilled labor export. Notably, Bangladesh also dispatched 50,158 professionals, including doctors, nurses, engineers, and IT specialists, last year, compared to 3,640 the previous year. This surge in skilled migration, coupled with the diversified destinations for employment opportunities, has not only broadened the horizons for Bangladeshi workers but has also positioned Bangladesh as a reliable source of skilled labor across various sectors. These encouraging trends are poised to pique the interest of countries like Austria, who are keen on tapping into the skilled labor pool from Bangladesh. As Bangladesh continues to enhance its reputation as a hub for skilled professionals, it is expected to stimulate greater interest from Austria and other nations seeking to leverage the talent and expertise of Bangladeshi workers. This burgeoning interest is anticipated to pave the way for increased opportunities for Bangladeshi skilled laborers to seek employment abroad, contributing to both the economic development of Bangladesh and the workforce needs of recipient countries.

However, the two foreign ministers’ deliberations spanned a spectrum of crucial areas including economic collaboration, trade dynamics, investment prospects, migration policies, climate change initiatives, waste management strategies, and avenues for enhanced post-graduation trade concessions for Bangladesh.

Both Foreign Ministers concurred on the abundant prospects to augment bilateral trade and foster Austrian investments in Bangladesh, recognizing the untapped potential awaiting exploration. Emphasizing the vitality of reciprocal trade missions, they advocated for the expeditious signing of the proposed agreement on the avoidance of double taxation, poised to catalyze bilateral economic endeavors. As a tangible step towards bolstering economic ties, the Austrian Foreign Minister committed to dispatching a trade delegation to Bangladesh in the forthcoming autumn, with a keen interest in establishing a trade office in Dhaka to fortify commercial linkages.

Furthermore, the Foreign Ministers deliberated on crafting a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on migration and mobility, envisaging the facilitation of skill mobility from Bangladesh to Austria. Dr. Hasan Mahmud accentuated the pivotal role ICT professionals from Bangladesh could play in augmenting the technological landscape of Austrian enterprises, fostering innovation and competitiveness.

The bilateral discourse extended beyond economic domains, delving into regional developments spanning South Asia and Europe, with a broader outlook encompassing global dynamics. Integral to these discussions were deliberations on the prevailing situations in Myanmar, the Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific region. Dr. Hasan Mahmud articulated a compelling plea to the international community, urging concerted efforts to facilitate the repatriation of forcibly displaced Rohingyas from Bangladesh to their homeland Myanmar, underscoring the imperative for regional peace and stability.

The outcome of the bilateral meeting resonates with a shared commitment to nurturing multifaceted relations between Bangladesh and Austria, rooted in mutual respect, understanding, and collaboration across diverse spheres. As both nations embark on a journey towards deeper engagement and cooperation, the prospects for synergistic partnerships hold promise for driving socio-economic progress and fostering sustainable development. In an era characterized by interconnectedness and interdependence, the bilateral ties between Bangladesh and Austria serve as a testament to the transformative potential of diplomacy in advancing common goals and aspirations on the global stage.

Syed Raiyan Amir

Syed Raiyan Amir is a Senior Research Associate at The KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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