Bangladesh - US Relations
Although the U.S. relationship with Bangladesh was initially troubled because of strong U.S. ties with Pakistan, U.S.-Bangladesh friendship and support developed quickly following Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan in 1971.
U.S.-Bangladesh relations are excellent. These relations were boosted in March 2000 when President Clinton visited Bangladesh, the first-ever visit by a sitting U.S. President, when Secretary of State Colin Powell visited in June 2003, as well as when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited in June 2004. A centerpiece of the bilateral relationship is a large U.S. aid program, totaling about $163 million for 2009. U.S. economic and food aid programs, which began as emergency relief following the 1971 war for independence, now concentrate on long-term development. U.S. assistance objectives include stabilizing population growth, protecting human health, encouraging broad-based economic growth, and building democracy.
In total, the United States has provided more than $5.5 billion in food and development assistance to Bangladesh. Food aid under Titles I, II, and III of PL-480 (congressional "food-for-peace" legislation) has been designed to help Bangladesh meet minimum food requirements, promote food production, and moderate fluctuation in consumer prices. Other U.S. development assistance emphasizes family planning and health, agricultural development, and rural employment. The United States works with other donors and the Bangladesh Government to avoid duplication and ensure that resources are used to maximum benefit.
Since 1986, with the exception of 1988-89, when an aircraft purchase made the trade balance even, the U.S. trade balance with Bangladesh has been negative, due largely to growing imports of ready-made garments. Jute carpet backing is the other major U.S. import from Bangladesh. Total imports from Bangladesh were about $2.6 billion (excluding services) in FY 2005, up from $2.1 billion in 2002. In 2007 total imports reached $3.4 billion. U.S. exports to Bangladesh (some $333 million--excluding services--in 2005, and $456 million in 2007) include wheat, fertilizer, cotton, communications equipment, aircraft, and medical supplies, a portion of which is financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). A bilateral investment treaty was signed in 1989.
Another trade related issue between the two countries involves the export processing zones (EPZs). The government provides several tax, foreign exchange, customs and labor incentives to investors in the EPZs. One such incentive provided in recent years was an exemption from certain labor laws, which had the practical effect of prohibiting trade unions from the zones. The U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) law requires the beneficiary country to satisfy certain conditions relating to labor rights. On July 13, 2004, the government passed a bill allowing limited trade unionism in the EPZs effective November 1, 2006. Implementation of the law has been slow, however, and a U.S. labor organization has filed a petition with the U.S. Government to suspend Bangladesh's GSP privileges in the absence of progress on labor rights issues.
Relations between Bangladesh and the United States were further strengthened by the participation of Bangladesh troops in the 1991 Gulf war coalition, and alongside U.S. forces in numerous UN peacekeeping operations, including Haiti in 1994, as well as by the assistance of a U.S. naval task force after a disastrous March 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh. The relief efforts of U.S. troops are credited with having saved as many as 200,000 lives. In response to Bangladesh's worst flooding of the century in 1998, the United States donated 700,000 metric tons of food grains, helping to mitigate shortages.
In July 2006, the U.S. Navy's hospital ship Mercy visited Bangladesh and U.S. personnel worked with Bangladeshi medical personnel to provide medical treatment to Bangladeshi patients. Between 2005 and 2008, the United States obligated $2.2 million in grant aid funding (Foreign Military Financing) to purchase Defender class small boats for the Coast Guard of Bangladesh, and allocated $934,000 in IMET (International Military Education and Training) for 2007.
In addition to heavy flooding at the end of summer 2007, Cyclone Sidr hit the country on November 15, causing widespread devastation and affecting the lives of millions of people. Following the cyclone, U.S. troops and two U.S. naval vessels assisted in the delivery of relief supplies to cyclone victims. USAID provided approximately $36.5 million in food and relief items to Cyclone Sidr-affected people and has continued its support through rebuilding houses for people in the cyclone-affected areas. An additional $80 million will be provided to rebuild livelihoods, strengthen local government, generate economic recovery through income-generation activities, and to plan and construct cyclone shelters in the disaster-prone areas.
Additionally, Bangladesh has become a valuable United States ally in global efforts to defeat terrorism. As part of these efforts, the Government of Bangladesh has begun to address problems of money laundering and weak border controls to ensure that Bangladesh does not become a terrorist safe-haven. Despite porous borders, ungoverned spaces, and poor service delivery, Bangladesh’s strong national identity and moderate Islamic tradition help it serve as a key player in combating extremism.
U.S. Development Efforts in Bangladesh
USAID is the principal U.S. Government agency providing development assistance in Bangladesh. USAID has had a full-fledged cooperation program in Bangladesh since 1971. It works closely with the Government of Bangladesh, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and other donors. USAID’s yearly development budget for Bangladesh averages $100 million. In 2009, planned assistance amounted to roughly $163 million, including help for people living in the Cyclone Sidr-affected regions.
Since 1971, USAID has provided over $5.5 billion in development assistance, with half of that amount provided in food aid. With USAID assistance, Bangladesh has seen significant improvements in living conditions. Today, Bangladeshis have better access to health care and electricity, increased agricultural productivity and better nutrition. USAID works with communities in disaster preparedness and to improve their ability to manage emergency food supplies. USAID programs assist Bangladeshi organizations and communities in addressing their needs in the areas of health and family planning, income generation, agriculture and food security, disaster management, democracy and human rights, and education.
USAID supports the provision of low-cost, quality family planning services, maternal and child health care, and treatment for tuberculosis through a network of nongovernmental clinics and community health workers. USAID promotes the social marketing of contraceptives and selected maternal and child health products through private sector outlets. USAID-supported programs serve 38% of all couples using modern family planning methods. In 2008, USAID programs provided 1 million pregnancy-related checkups, vaccinations for 300,000 children, and essential care for 40,000 newborns. USAID targets the most at-risk populations with messages about the treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
Although enrollment in primary school has improved in recent years, an estimated 40% of children still do not complete the second grade. USAID’s pioneering work in early childhood education, including its support for 1,800 preschools and learning programs for older children, improves schools’ ability to address poor attendance, low achievement, and high dropout rates in primary school. The USAID-funded Sesame Street television program “Sisimpur” is the most widely viewed children’s television program in Bangladesh, reaching over 9 million viewers weekly.
Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to natural disasters, including cyclones, floods, landslides, droughts, and earthquakes. USAID’s food security, disaster readiness, and humanitarian assistance programs target 3,500 of the most at-risk villages and help to provide a safety net of short-term emergency assistance during natural disasters, as well as long-term solutions that raise incomes, improve health, and enhance food security.
Since 2005, USAID has financed various asset protection activities, such as raising the ground of rural homes for 4,400 vulnerable farming households to protect assets such as vegetable gardens and farming animals. USAID has funded the construction of earthen embankments, which protect crops and allow more time to harvest, and walls to stop erosion in low-lying areas. In 11 southern coastal districts impacted by Cyclone Sidr, USAID plans to build 100 schools that will serve as shelters in the event of a disaster.
USAID’s most significant contribution in Bangladesh has been to help bring electricity to rural areas. In 1971, only 3% of the population had electricity; today, 44% do. To protect natural resources and empower local people who depend on them for their livelihoods, USAID works with communities to establish management systems that encourage the wise use of aquatic and tropical forest resources and restore habitats and ecosystems. USAID also expands access to global markets by assisting key sectors, such as aquaculture and horticulture, to improve the quality of their products, increase sales, create jobs, and promote investment, particularly for the benefit of women, youth, and small and medium enterprise suppliers.
Elected officials and public institutions frequently fail to effectively address citizens’ needs, and large- and small-scale corruption is pervasive. To fight these trends, USAID addresses the root causes of corruption by improving the quality of governance by elected leaders, developing fair and open election processes, improving the functioning of political parties, and increasing parliamentary and citizen oversight of the national budget. USAID also works with nongovernmental organizations, local governments, and municipal associations to improve government accountability and the delivery of social services. These efforts have led to direct budget allocations from the national government to local government associations for the first time ever. In addition, these programs have achieved a 50% increase in local revenues in targeted areas.
Trafficking in persons is a significant transnational crime in Bangladesh. With USAID’s support, the Bangladesh Government made significant progress in dealing with human trafficking, removing the country from prospective U.S. sanctions. USAID has provided assistance to more than 500 trafficking survivors since 2006.
The United States and Bangladesh have been friends and close allies for many years. Through its development assistance programs, the U.S. Government will continue to be a strong and close partner of the Bangladeshi people.
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