The word 'diplomacy' usually provides a picture of a group of people wearing official suits, ties, shining shoes and living a prestigious life abroad. They are the agents to maintain good relations among states, negotiating peace in a state of conflict or facilitating further mutually beneficial relationship.
Use of diplomacy to achieve mutual interests started since ancient times. Its use and forms in ancient China, India, Greece, Middle East and Europe were different on the basis of aims and objectives. Previously in informal diplomacy, negotiators/diplomats were used to be sent to a particular state/region with a specific task. They used to negotiate a single issue with their counterparts. But today use of diplomatic missions (formal diplomacy) is more popular around the world.
We can classify diplomacy on the basis of the objective and nature of tasks like peace-making, peace keeping, trade negotiation, partnership in economic development, cultural exchange, environment, human rights and other issues.
Least developed countries (LDCs) like Bangladesh are suffering from scarcity of resources, pressure from population boom, unemployment, extreme poverty etc. Existing internal resources are not enough for developing these countries. But without further economic development it is impossible to ensure basic needs of human life (food, cloths, shelter, education and health care). The goal of foreign policy of Bangladesh may thus be shifted to develop and maintain friendly economic/trade relations with other countries and foster cooperation in the field of trade, commerce and manpower placement in developed countries through various regional, sub-regional, political and economic groups.
It means countries like Bangladesh should pursue economic diplomacy more vigorously and for this to click, we need trade- and business-related professionals. Usually LDCs like Bangladesh employ the same set of negotiators in every platform. As a result, they become masters of none. The country needs to develop different sets of negotiators, specialised in different fields like bilateral trade, regional trade and multilateral trade conversant with different WTO agreements, experts for negotiating with development partners/donors, trade promoters in missions aboard, and form an apex council of negotiators for coordinating all these platforms and harmonising keeping uniformity with the national foreign policy.
To get a strategic platform to exploit the multilateral regime, the country has to prioritise branding Bangladesh.
For attracting foreign investment, the country needs to project a positive image abroad. Branding Bangladesh is essential because without a brand image it would not be easy to get foreign investment. The government should promote the country abroad, which should be the primary part of economic diplomacy. The image of a country is very important in the field of trade, global politics, and international relations.
Economic diplomacy can be used to mobilise investment, promote tourism and focus better on the national image. Investment mobilisation would call for a global presence of competent companies or internationalisation of local companies. We need to develop its tourist spots and their infrastructure to attract foreign tourists. For projecting a positive national image abroad, the country's political leaders have to be responsible about what they say regarding their own country. They should know that the world media report what they say. Their unguarded statements can damage the image of the country. To build a good image, Bangladesh may also need promotional activities in the world media.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the embassies and diplomats of Bangladesh are responsible for projection of a 'correct' image of the country abroad. But their capacity to project a positive image or change the undue negative perception may be limited. The diplomats abroad have to be proactive rather than reactive. The Foreign Ministry has to give importance to promote trade and development by organising trade fairs, participating in foreign exhibitions, organising investors' conferences and holding up B2B (business-to-business) dialogues etc. The missions abroad have to be facilitators of joint business councils, joint chambers, joint trade facilitator taskforces etc. between the countries.
A positive national image can better promote products and services abroad and help create a brand image of our products in the consumers' minds. It would facilitate better market access, salesmanship, networking and regulatory (customs and procedural) management would facilitate export of commodities, services and projects. Value creation of products is essential.
The missions abroad have to assess demand for Bangladeshi products in the host markets and facilitate B2B interactions to promote exports to those countries.
Ensuring proper education and technical training of people on latest technical know-how is also important for proper economic growth of the country. Many developed countries are providing scholarships in higher education / short training / diploma facilities to the LDC citizens. A diplomatic mission can facilitate more participants from Bangladesh in these opportunities. Thus they can play a vital role in technology transfer.
The writer is a Programme Officer (Research & SME Journal), the SME Foundation, Bangladesh firstname.lastname@example.org