Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh-Italy relations: Current trends and future prospects – Modern Diplomacy

Immediately after the independence of Bangladesh, Italy recognized the country on February 12, 1972, and started its official diplomatic relations in 1973. In 1974, Italy was one of the countries that sponsored the admission of Bangladesh in the United Nations (UN). From that time, a number of official visits have been exchanged between the countries to strengthen the bilateral relations. The current Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina paid a number of visits to attend various international events and conferences held in Italy. However, after the visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in Rome to attend the summit of the Asia-Europe Intercontinental Forum (ASEM) in October 2014, the bilateral relations have entered to a new era of strategic and economic partnership. Against such backdrops, it is important to assess the current trends and unearth the untapped areas to explore new avenues of Bangladesh-Italy relations.
Bangladesh was heavily reliant on China for defense purchase for quite a long time. But now, they are pursuing a balanced approach in achieving its military modernization followed by the Forces Goal 2030. EU members especially Germany, France, Italy and Spain have been increasingly showing their interest in supplying high-tech weapons. France with its Dassault Rafale is in a competition with Eurofighter Typhoons jointly manufactured by the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Bangladesh and Italy have been enjoying smooth defense relations in the recent past. The Italian defense giants Leonardo and Fincantieri group have shown their interest in joint ventures with Bangladesh’s air and naval industries. Leonardo got the contract to supply communications equipment, technical support and comprehensive training program for Bangladesh air force along with supplying the Kronos LAND radars.  The Kronos LAND C-band AESA radar is multi-functional radar with an air surveillance range of 250 km. At the same time, the Fincantieri group wants to upgrade the Chattogram Dry Dockyard and help Bangladesh Navy to construct state of the art warships such as frigates and corvettes based on Italian technology. Italy and Bangladesh can usher a new level of strategic cooperation through high tech defense cooperation, training and surveillance.
Bangladesh from the “bottomless basket” is now one of the economic giants of South Asia. According to National Human Development Report, the country will be the 24th largest economy by 2030. The graduation of Bangladesh to a middle-income country has both opportunities and challenges. Bangladesh enjoys duty-free market access to 52 countries including the EU; Italy is a part of them.  Italy supported Bangladesh in providing the GSP facilities from the European Union. EU has been allowing Bangladeshi exports under the “everything but arms” tariff arrangements. During the last official visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in February 2020, Bangladesh sought Italy’s support in continuing the preferential access of its products to the EU market even after the country’s graduation from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) status.
Italy-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IBCCI) is the formal platform to boost bilateral economic ties. From 1995 to 2019, in 24 years, the exports of Bangladesh to Italy have increased at an annual rate of 7.86%, from $268 million to $1.65 billion. In 2019, Bangladesh exported $1.65 billion to Italy, mostly Knitwears. Agricultural items like frozen food, tea, raw jute, and jute goods have a great promise to diversify the exporting products. On the other hand, Italy exported $610 million to Bangladesh in 2019. The main products that Italy exported to Bangladesh were mercenaries, electronic products, and vehicles. The exports of Italy to Bangladesh have increased at a rate of 7.74% from $102 million in 1995 to $610 million in 2019.
Italy has shown its interest in investing in the leather industry of Bangladesh. On November 14, 2021, the Italian ambassador to Bangladesh Enrico Nunziata expressed interest during a meeting with the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSIC) in Dhaka. Bangladesh has been developing 100 economic zones in different parts of the country by offering a wide range of incentives for foreign investors including 100 percent equity share. With relatively political stability in the last decade, cheap labor facilities, and a huge middle-class domestic market, Bangladesh can be a lucrative destination for Italian companies.  However, the tariff and non-tariff barriers, corruption, and bureaucratic complexities need to be addressed to properly exploit the opportunities.
Another area of cooperation is the diaspora community of Bangladesh in Italy. Italy is the second-largest destination for Bangladeshi migrants after the United Kingdom. As of 2020, there were more than 150,000 Bangladeshis living in Italy. The economy of Bangladesh is largely depending on two sectors—RMG and remittances. During the Covid-19 pandemic period, Bangladesh managed to maintain its economic growth with the constant remittance inflows from the diaspora. In fiscal 2020-21, Bangladesh received the highest $810.90 million remittances from Italy. But concern still exists over the rights of the migrants. To avoid the visa complexities and miseries of the immigrants, the One Stop Service (OSS) need to be facilitated. Along with the labor migrants, Bangladesh has to focus on developing skilled migrants to Italy.
Bangladesh and Italy should increase their cooperation on scientific and technological cooperation. The know-how and technology transfer will further strengthen the bilateral partnership. Bangladesh assuming the chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) for 2022-23 and Italy’s outreach activities to the IORA, the blue economy could be a potential sector of mutual interest.  Besides, both the countries should continue their cooperation both bilaterally and multilaterally in supporting the forcibly displaced Rohingyas and finding a durable solution to the crisis. The relations between Bangladesh and Italy are at the tip of the ice berg and still there are lot of possibilities to strengthen the traditional partnership in the strategic and economic sectors. The continual bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Italy will be helpful in maintaining economic growth and sustainable development in the days ahead.
Francesco Rocca, an Italian at the top of international support and solidarity activities

Strategic Geopolitics and Bangladesh
Francesco Rocca, an Italian at the top of international support and solidarity activities
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People who are less well known and even less mentioned in the media – rather than those who are known for “environmental” reasons and by the will of political parties – honour and serve Italy and the world. The latter often have no skills or even qualifications for their role, thus reducing themselves to mere yes-men useful to local and not general interests.
Today I want to talk to you about a person who honour Italy, although his name and face are not so familiar, as happens on most of these occasions when aporia rules.
Francesco Rocca is currently the President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and national President of the Italian Red Cross.
Voluntary work has always been central to his life, even as a university student at the Faculty of Law. His first volunteering experiences were for the most vulnerable, those living in the grey and marginalized areas of our society, such as the homeless and migrants.
Starting from the late 1980s, Rocca began his involvement with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Rome: from 1988 to 1993, first as a volunteer and later as Head of the San Saba Dormitory.
JRS is an international Catholic organisation with the mission to accompany, serve and support refugees and forcibly displaced people, so that they may be cured, learn and determine their own future. JRS was founded in November 1980 as an institute of the Society of Jesus and officially registered as a foundation in Vatican City on March 19, 2000.
During the same period, from 1988 to 1990, Rocca was also a volunteer at the Caritas accommodation centre for minors and, from 1988 to 1991, at the Piccola Casa della Divina Provvidenza “Cottolengo” for assistance to severely disabled people.
In 1990 he graduated and three years later he became a lawyer. From 1990 until 1995 he worked as an operator and then auditor of cooperatives linked to Caritas, particularly the one called “Partire dagli ultimi” (Starting with the Last) and continued to carry out voluntary work at the Caritas legal aid centre for migrants and asylum seekers from 1991 to 1995.
From 1990 to 2003 he practised law. In particular, in the second half of the 1990s, he was one of the lawyers at the forefront in the fight against the Mafia, and for this reason he has been living under escort for five years.
In parallel with his work as a lawyer, he continued his voluntary work in the NGO Hansenian’s Ethiopian Welfare Organization (HEWO), of which he was also the Director General – for free – for a short period of time, from 2003 to 2007, with direct operations in the field.
HEWO – which is active in Ethiopia and Eritrea – is a legal reality that has no terms of comparison, made up of self-managed communities of ordinary people in difficulty who struggle together to emerge from hardship and suffering. For over forty-five years, HEWO has been providing free support services in Africa to communities of people affected by misery and neglect and by severe diseases (mainly leprosy, TB, HIV-AIDS and illnesses caused by severe nutritional deficiencies).
From 1996 to 2004, Rocca was President and Commissioner of the Public Institute of Assistance and Charity “Santa Maria in Aquiro”, and from 2001 to 2003, President of the IPAB Asilo della Patria, leading the transition from orphanages to family homes for vulnerable children. From 2003 to 2008, he remained a director of this organisation.
In 2003-2004, he specialised at the Scuola Superiore della Pubblica Amministrazione (Graduate School of Public Administration) as general manager of hospitals. In those years he received many sensitive professional assignments. In 2003, he was appointed Extraordinary Commissioner of the Sant’Andrea Hospital in Rome and then, until 2007, he served as General Manager of that hospital. In 2007 he was appointed Head of the Emergency Operations Department of the Italian Red Cross. From 2005 to 2009 he was member of the evaluation team of the National Cancer Institute – IRCSS Pascale Foundation of Naples. From 2007 to 2010 he was member of the steering committee of the National Institute for Infectious Diseases “Lazzaro Spallanzani” in Rome.
In 2008, after a brief period as Head of the Health and Social Activities Department of the Municipality of Rome, he was asked to lead the Italian Red Cross in the Commissioner and reform phase. He accepted the post of ICRC’s Extraordinary Commissioner, being proud to represent the largest voluntary organisation in Italy and the world. In 2009, during the General Assembly in Kenya, he was elected to the Board of Directors of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
In 2010, he was appointed Extraordinary Commissioner of ASL Naples 2.
In January 2013 he was elected National President of the Italian Red Cross. Again in 2013, at the General Assembly in Sydney, he was appointed to the post of Vice-President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
In spring 2015, Rocca was selected for the post of Director General of the IDI Dermatological Institute in Rome. In 2016, the volunteers of the Italian Red Cross re-elected him as National President, after completing the historic reform of the Association, which thus made it return into the mainstream of the International Movement, no longer being a public body, but an association completely back in the volunteers’ hands.
In November 2017, the General Assembly of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies elevated Rocca to the Presidency during the statutory meetings held in Antalya, Turkey. Finally, in May 2020, he was confirmed as Head of the Italian Red Cross.
During his years as a Red Cross member, he had the burden and honour of coordinating and representing the Association at national and international levels. From the conflict in Georgia in 2008, to the earthquakes in Italy (L’Aquila, Emilia, Central Italy) that followed one another over the years, to the missions to Syria during the war, to the earthquake that hit Haiti and the armed conflict in Palestine, and particularly in the Gaza Strip, to the mission to Kenya, during the very severe drought that had devastated the Turkana area, in particular, Rocca has always tried to be in the field as much as possible to understand people’s needs and be close to the Italian volunteers and operators.
Italy hosted two major international events: in 2009 the Solferino celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and in 2014 the 9th European Conference in Florence. In his capacity as Vice-President, he represented the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on many occasions, including the UN General Assembly in New York and international meetings on migration.
Francesco Rocca has a privileged observatory on what is happening in the world, for the additional reason that – with his daily commitment – he can take action in favour of those who are vulnerable and in need.
As Italians, we are proud that Rocca represents the largest humanitarian organisation in the world, both nationally and internationally.
On the other hand, we are surprised and hurt that – at the same time – people at the height of their mediocrity are invading the media in Italy with speeches and statements that are the sum of ignorance, conceit, arrogance, boasting and inanity.
The November 2019 general parliamentary elections in Spain resulted in none of the parties getting an absolute majority needed to form a government. Following two months of negotiations, a left-wing coalition between the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party) and Unidas Podemos (United We Can) was formed in January 2020. Having received the necessary parliamentary support, Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the socialists, assumed the post of the Spanish Prime Minister.
Catalan and Basque parties are now vital for the Spanish government
Since this is the first coalition government in the history of modern Spain that does not rely on a stable parliamentary majority, the role of regional parties has significantly increased. The PSOE-Podemos coalition only has 155 mandates, falling short of the majority (176) by 21 votes. In such a situation, success of any initiative put forward by the left-wing government depends on the support of other parliamentary parties—in particular, the nationalist movements of Catalonia and the Basque Country. The Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, the ERC) and “Together for Catalonia” account for 13 and 8 seats, whereas the Basque Nationalist Party (BNP) and the EH-Bildu are each represented by 6 and 5 MPs.
Support of the four regional parties facilitated a number of crucial events in the Spanish political process. These include Pedro Sanchez, the PSOE leader, taking the office of Prime Minister in January 2020, a repeated extension of the state of emergency in the country in spring 2020, the adoption of the state budget for 2021 as well as passing the bill on the distribution of money from the EU recovery fund into law.
In this regard, both Catalonia and the Basque Country are now presented with more opportunities to promote their interests in broadening autonomous powers in exchange for their support of the governmental projects. At times of the bipartisan system, when the party to win general elections could independently form a majority government, regional forces had weaker bargaining positions. However, the value of their votes in the Congress of Deputies today has increased drastically. Amid such conditions, P. Sanchez has no other way but intensify interaction with the two autonomies on the issues of interest to them. He is driven by the desire to sustain support of the regional forces, ensuring the viability of his government.
Different aims: Catalonia is seeking referendum while the Basque Country is keen to broaden its autonomy
The coronavirus pandemic, which broke out in 2020, did not allow to launch another stage of negotiations between the Spanish government and the political leadership of Catalonia and the Basque Country. Notably, each autonomy has its own strategy and aims to pursue in their negotiations with Madrid.
The negotiations agenda of the new Catalan government, formed by the ERC and “Together for Catalonia” following the regional elections on February 14, 2021, includes: 1) amnesty for all the prisoners detained after the illegal referendum on October 1, 2017; 2) agreement with the government on holding another, this time official, referendum on the status of the autonomy; 3) revision of the current structure of financial inflows in favor of increasing investments from Madrid in the budget of the autonomy.
At the same time, the Basque government, headed by the BNP, has a different set of objectives: 1) implementation of all the remaining provisions enshrined in the Statute of Autonomy of the region, namely the transfer of some 30 competencies in self-governance to the regional authorities; 2) resuming talks on a new Statute of Autonomy; 3) formation of a broad negotiating platform involving the largest Spanish and Basque political forces.
In 2021, negotiations on these issues were intensified between Madrid and the regions. Each autonomy has managed to achieve certain results in pursuing their interests.
Catalonia: two tactical victories with no prospects for a referendum
Both Catalonia and the Basque Country managed to get a number of significant concessions in the course of June to October 2021. By doing it, P. Sanchez has shown the importance of the two autonomies in maintaining stability in the PSOE-Podemos coalition government.
Catalonia succeeded in achieving two important outcomes. The first victory was a judicial one. On June 23, 2021, amnesty was granted to all 12 prisoners sentenced to terms from 9 to 13 years on the charges related to the illegal referendum on the status of the autonomy that was held on October 1, 2017. This step sparked a severe backlash in the Kingdom, with demonstrations held in many regions. The majority of Spaniards (61%) expressed disagreement with such a move. However, it manifests that P. Sanchez is ready to make controversial compromises to maintain his political allies, despite possible long-term losses of the electorate support.
The second success of Catalonia was in the political domain. Due to a flexibility of the central government, the first talks in a year and a half that took place between Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Pere Aragones, the head of the Catalan government, became possible. While the sides only exchanged views on topical bilateral issues at their first face-to-face meeting on June 27, 2021, the parties could hold a substantive discussion of a plan to normalize interaction during the second round on September 15.
In the meantime, it was the Catalan side that set the agenda. This emphasizes the increasing role of the autonomy in bilateral relations, while indicating that Madrid is keen to garner support among the Catalan deputies. This is the why the central government is ready to offer some concessions.
Following the talks, the Prime Minister stated that the sides managed to agree on 44 out of 45 points of the document presented by P. Aragones. However, the only stumbling block remaining is a new referendum in Catalonia. On this issue, P. Sanchez is not going to make any concessions.
The Basque Country: higher flexibility and new competencies for the autonomy
Madrid has also stepped up negotiations with the Basque Country. However, it should be added here that the region has managed to achieve more tangible results in terms of expanding its autonomous powers in judicial and financial matters.
First, as the agreement signed in April 2021 suggests, three penitentiary centers with 1,378 prisoners were handed over to the Basque Government from October 1, namely the Department for Equality, Justice and Social Policy.
Second, the talks on July 28 between Pedro Sanchez, Spanish Prime Minister, and Inigo Urkullo, head of the Basque government, within the framework of the Joint Economic Commission resulted in new tax competencies handed over to the Basque Country. Local authorities are now in charge of collecting taxes from e-commerce, financial transactions and digital services. This may lead to an inflow of additional 220 ml euros to the Basque budget.
In response to such steps of the Spanish government, I. Urkullo made an eleventh-hour decision to attend the Conference of regional leaders on July 29, 2021. This event is of political importance as it unites the heads of all Spain’s 17 autonomies. At the same time, the Catalan Pere Aragones did not participate in the meeting. Had both Catalonia and the Basque Country been absent, this would have come as a real blow to P. Sanchez. Therefore, it was of utmost importance for the Prime Minister to persuade at least the Basque leader to attend the meeting. Urkullo’s presence partly contributed to the image of Sanchez as a politician who can reach agreement with the regions.
Key differences between the Catalan and the Basque government that influence relations with Madrid
In Catalonia, the coalition government is dominated by the ERC, which is more moderate and ready to move away from harsh rhetoric in favor of discussing common problems with Madrid. At the same time, its partner, “Together for Catalonia” that lost the February 2021 regional elections to ERC by only a narrow margin, stands for more straightforward actions.
Such a configuration within the coalition restricts Catalonia’s flexibility. The main goal of the radical wing is a new referendum. The ERC’s moderate approach is counterbalanced by “Together for Catalonia”. It does not support excessive rapprochement with Madrid or any deviation from that idea.
At the same time, the situation is different in the Basque Country. The moderate BNP enjoys leading positions in the government coalition while the EH-Bildu has a much lower weight in strategy setting. It allows the autonomy to be flexible, interacting with Madrid in a more successful manner.
Moreover, the talks between Catalonia and Madrid are still held in a narrow format of face-to-face meetings between the Prime Minister of Spain and the head of the autonomy. At the same time, the Basque Country has already resumed dialogue within the Joint Economic Commission. This is a more inclusive format that enables the sides to cover a wider range of topics.
Currently, the Basque Country’s give-and-take strategy results in smaller but more meaningful concessions, bringing about a broadening of its autonomous powers in exchange for political support of the central government. Meanwhile, Catalonia’s attempts to achieve more significant results, which may affect the image of P. Sanchez, bump up against Madrid’s reluctance to cross the red line. The Prime Minister is ready to make some tactical concessions to the autonomies in order to garner political support for his initiatives. Despite certain criticism from the right wing, such steps confirm the effectiveness of the PSOE-Podemos coalition, demonstrating the viability of the incumbent government to the electorate.
Talks have future as long as the left-wing coalition remains in power
The future of the negotiations between the center and the autonomies heavily depends on the 2023 Spanish general elections. Right-wing parties like the People’s Party, VOX and “Citizens” are not inclined to broad negotiations with Catalan and Basque nationalists. If these parties form the next government just in two years, the entire process of normalizing relations with the regions may be put on hold.
P. Sanchez’s excessive flexibility in negotiations with Catalonia and the Basque Country may lead to a higher popularity of the right-wing VOX party. Those among voters, who are dissatisfied with the policy of offering concessions to nationalists, may switch to the forces that safeguard the Spanish constitutional order. Another problem for the PSOE-Podemos government is the socio-economic recovery of Spain from COVID-19.
Little progress in these two directions is likely to result in the loss of public support. The influence of Catalonia and the Basque Country will not see a decline in the coming years. It is therefore essential for Madrid to make new concessions similar to those made to the Basque Country. But they should be gradual to provoke less publicity.
From our partner RIAC
On Sunday 12th of December 2021 Boris Johnson went on national television to warn about a tidal wave that would threaten Britain. He was back then referring to the Omicron Covid-19 variant, little did he know back then that he could have been referring to his own political future. Johnson is facing increasing demands from his own party to step down after having admitted to attending a party in Downing Street on May 20th, 2020, during the UK’s first national lockdown.
Johnson has been facing increasing risks for quite a long time by now: from collapsing poll ratings, to violation of lockdown rules and an ill-managed pandemic that has continued to strain the National Health Service; among many others. These crises have compromised his moral authority both with the citizenry and with his own frontbenchers. Although in the UK confidence votes can happen relatively quick: the no confidence vote on Theresa May’s government was held on December 12th, 2018, just a day after she was informed that the minimum threshold had been reached, this is still not on the horizon for the current Prime Minister.
To trigger a leadership contest 15% of the Tory MPs need to submit a letter to the chair of the 1922 Committee. There are currently 360 Tory MPs, 54 of them are needed to spark a confidence vote. As up to now, very few have publicly confirmed to either have submitted or to have the intention to submit a letter. If such threshold is reached, this would open the debate as to whether there is someone suitable enough to replace him. The frontrunners are Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss; neither have the proven record of vote-winning Boris Johnson has had ever since he was the Mayor of London. Such vote of confidence is also unlikely to happen as majority of the crises the government has faced are of their own making. Johnson is not the cause; it is the symptom of a deeper decay of the British State and their politicians.
While the Conservatives will not be able to escape the cumulative effects of current and past scandals, this latest turmoil us unlikely to trigger the collapse of Boris Johnson. The next British election is scheduled to happen in May 2024, giving both Johnson and the Tories enough time to move on from this crisis and work on rebuilding electoral support. Boris Johnson has long defied political gravity and has survived a long history of scandals and mismanagements that may have destroyed the electoral chances of many other politicians and their political parties. It is highly likely that in the coming local elections in May 2022 the Conservatives will suffer electoral defeats, this is still preferable than what the political and electoral consequences for the Conservatives would be if they were to get rid of Johnson. Sacking him now would be accepting losing the war rather than losing a battle in the coming local elections. The long-term aim of the Tories is to hold on power for as long as they can, and at least ensure their electoral base is secure coming the 2024 general elections. For this, Boris Johnson still may come in handy.
Although Boris Johnson’s record has been shockingly poor; the Tories will not give Labour a chance for a general election before the scheduled for 2024, especially not now that they are leading the polls on the question as to who would make a better prime minister. The reality is that although his ratings have plummeted dramatically over recent years, there is no real threat of a general election for at least 2 years if one considers the larger political landscape.
One of the major threats British democracy does not come from Boris Johnson but rather from a deterioration of what sustains democracy as a healthy system of government. The UK electorate is highly volatile. Unlike countries like the US whose electorate has become highly polarised, the British electorate has shown less party loyalty, and voters have switched more and more between political parties in each election. However, this volatility will not get Johnson out of office, that is something only the Conservatives can do. This is closely linked to trust in politicians and the government. Lack of trust in both is one of the major issues of contemporary democracies around the world. Trust, is, after all, the basic condition for a legitimate government. Lack of trust in politicians, institutions, political parties, and the government in general enables populist tendencies, polarisation, political extremism and impacts the voting preference of citizens. It also favours the support of more stringent stances towards minorities, opposition, immigration, and human rights violations. A second threat that should not be disregarded is the attitude towards democratic institutions and bodies that sustain the British political system. While it is true that Johnson’s behaviour does not push to extremes such as Donal Trump did, or many other highly divisive politicians around the world, he is drawn to the same unconventional styles to deal with political challenges.
Democracy around the world is facing a backlash that is organised and coming from within, from elected officials. Our democratic rights can either be taken away suddenly as a result of a revolution or a coup d’état, or gradually through the election of leaders who slowly erode rules, standards and institutions that help sustain democracy. This is potentially more dangerous for the overall prospects of democracy because gradual erosion of democratic values is harder to perceive. The state, under this progressive attack, becomes prone to the systematic corruption of interest groups that take over the processes and institutions in charge of making public policy. It is during this gradual democratic backsliding that elected officials disregard norms and institutions while, at the same time, trying to redesign the structure of the state. An informed and active citizenry is crucial to prevent further erosion of democracy. We need to be aware that it is not only democratic rules and institutions that are in danger, but also the respect of our fundamental civil, political, social and human rights.
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