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1997 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with Sheikha Hasina

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikha Hasina, on Sunday 12th January 1997.


SHEIKHA HASINA:

Distinguished Members of the Press. I am happy that the British Prime Minister, the Rt Hon John Major, has successfully concluded a two-day official visit to Bangladesh, and we have been pleased to receive him and Mrs Major in our midst at a time when we are celebrating the Silver Jubilee of our liberation.

We had formal talks where we discussed the broad gamut of subjects concerning bilateral relations and international issues of major concern. The subject of increasing British investment to Bangladesh came up during the discussion. We also discussed how to increase trade flows between our two countries. He highly appreciated the economic and investment policies pursued by our government, while referring to the friendly investment climate in Bangladesh. The British Prime Minister said that British investors are keen to invest in Bangladesh. In this regard we are pleased to know that a high level British investment and business delegation will be visiting Bangladesh shortly. He also acclaimed the pioneering role of Bangladesh involving micro-credit towers for elevation.

Prime Minister John Major has agreed to consider sympathetically our request for assistance in the field of education, training for English language teachers, higher medical studies and scientific research as well as a resumption of food aid.

I am pleased to state that during the visit an agreement was signed between Petrobangla on one side and Cairns Energy plc [indistinct] Limited and Halliburton, Brown and Root Limited on the sale and purchase of gas. It heralds a new chapter in building the confidence of foreign investors in Bangladesh. It involves an actual investment of 188 million US dollars.

I am looking forward to attending the Commonwealth Summit Meeting in Edinburgh which I am sure will be very productive. We also discussed matters relating to the forthcoming Conference of the Commonwealth Heads of Government and State to be held in Edinburgh in October 1997. Both Bangladesh and Britain can contribute significantly towards revitalising the Commonwealth. While reviewing our bilateral relations I recalled with gratitude the support extended by the government, the political leadership and the people of Britain during our War of Liberation.

The visit of the Prime Minister marks a milestone in our bilateral relations. I am confident it will further contribute towards strengthening the relations between Bangladesh and Britain, particularly in the field of trade and foreign investment.

We look forward to receiving The Prince of Wales at the end of February this year. We greatly value our relations with the United Kingdom which has emerged as the second largest export market and an important source of foreign investment.

PRIME MINISTER:

Prime Minister, thank you. Let me just add a few words to that. I think you have set out very fully and very accurately the substance of our discussions over the last couple of days. Let me say how much I have enjoyed this short visit to Bangladesh. I very much enjoyed my meetings and discussions with you, Prime Minister, and with the President, and also the visit to the remarkable Memorial at Savar and the work that is being done across the country. I saw particularly at Manikganj some very remarkable work being done to assist in rural areas.

It is, as you said, an auspicious time to be here. Auspicious think firstly because of the anniversary to which you referred, but also because it seems an appropriate time to look at a relationship, refresh it, modernise it and take advantage of the business and political opportunities that exist, and very self-evidently exist at the moment, to increase and deepen the relationship between our two countries.

You have mentioned the importance of trade and investment and I don't think I need to add anything to that, except to endorse the fact that there is a substantial trade flow now, a substantial investment flow, and there is every indication that that is likely to increase in the future. And I think that is something that we both look forward to and both welcome.

As you said, we discussed a number of political aspects as well, relationships with the Commonwealth, where again trade, investment and development as a road to prosperity across the Commonwealth will be the substantive theme of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at Edinburgh later on this year.

We also noted with some interest that our troops had shared in peace keeping duties in Iraq, in Kuwait and in Bosnia, and spoke also of the opportunities that would certainly emerge in the future for that relationship also to be intensified.

I came here as the Head of a Government of a country that is already firm friends with Bangladesh. The visit essentially was to act as a catalyst to intensify the relationship in terms of trade and also in terms of politics as well and I think we have managed to achieve that in the discussions we have had over the last day or so.

In the past there has been quite a heavy relationship [sic] in our relationship on aid and of course the aid will continue in future. But I think it is moving beyond that with the new trading and investment relationship that now exists and you have referred, Prime Minister, to one very substantial investment that has been signed. I am sure that there will be others to come in the future.

So we wish to see the relationship move on, move on economically to a new emphasis on trade and investment, and move on politically by focusing on democracy and Stability as the new plans and reforms in Bangladesh deepen and settle firmly into the Bangladesh way of government and life.

I am very keen to maintain the existing links that exist and to diversify them. What I have found very refreshing on this visit is that that is clearly your wish, Prime Minister, and the wish of the government of Bangladesh as well. I am delighted that an early opportunity to develop the business links will come with a substantial trade mission led by the Chairman of the British Overseas Trade Board, Martin Laing, in just a few weeks time. And senior officials from the Overseas Development Agency will be here also to discuss elements of the aid programme for the future.

So I think we have a very firm basis for a positive and intensified relationship and I would conclude, if I may, simply by thanking you, Prime Minister, your government and the people of. Bangladesh for their very warm and very friendly welcome on this visit.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, you have mentioned that your visit to Bangladesh will act as a catalyst to improve the relationship between the two sides. Can you please tell me in what way this will serve as a catalyst? Have you identified any particular areas which will witness tremendous progress after the visit?

PRIME MINISTER:

Such a thought would never have crossed my mind. How are we going to act as a catalyst? I think essentially by drawing attention to the investment and business opportunities that exist. There was a growing recognition, but I think not a sufficient growing recognition. A number of businessmen have come here with me on this particular trip. A large contract has been signed. The Prime Minister and I have discussed further options for the future. The trade mission is about to come. The publicity generated by my visit both here, and the publicity generated back at home amongst the business community, will open up the opportunities in Bangladesh to people who might not otherwise have considered them. I hope also we will have the opportunity of seeing businessmen from Bangladesh, and the Prime Minister if that is possible, also visit the United Kingdom. So I think it is in that fashion that there tends to be a catalyst.

It has been the experience in the past that when there is a substantial trading contract of some sort that is signed, that it tends to emphasise the opportunities that exist. And I think the opening up particularly of the energy market and the remarkable contract between Petrobangla and Cairns to lift very large amounts of gas from the Bay of Bengal, is an indication, the highest single indication, the highest profile indication we have yet seen of the changing face of Bangladesh. So I think in that fashion it will act as a catalyst.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] elections by May this year and there is some strength in British voters of Bangladeshi origin. Do you think their favoured response is to your political party and how much do you count on their votes?

PRIME MINISTER:

Every individual elector in the United Kingdom will make up their own mind, you can't treat them as groups, they are individuals. If you could treat them as groups, life would be easier, you can't, not in Britain.

QUESTION:

You currently have the distinction of having good relations with the countries you are visiting now, links in a variety of ways. Do you or your country have any plan to make very good relationships amongst the countries of the sub-continent that you are now visiting? We are not having a really good friendship or good relations. Do you or your country have any plans to alter the catalyst [indistinct] among countries?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think by and large countries can best determine their bilateral relationships themselves. But where Britain is a firm friend of one or more countries, if we are asked to assist in any way then of course that assistance would be made available. But I don't think we would gratuitously offer ourselves to do so, because I think essentially an improving relationship between countries must come about by those countries themselves. And what has been very striking, I came here, as you know, from India, and the Prime Minister of India, Deve Gowda, was also here meeting Prime Minister Sheikha Hasina, and there is no doubt about the determination amongst India and Bangladesh to improve their relationship. I think the recent water agreement on the Ganges, which has been needed for many years and hasn't previously been possible to reach agreement, is the firmest possible indication that there is a greater intent to improve the relationships within the area. Certainly that is what the Prime Minister has said to me over the last day or so and I can assure you that that is what the Prime Minister of India said to me as well, and I look forward to similar discussions in Pakistan tomorrow.

QUESTION:

You met the Leader of the Opposition, Begum Khaled Zia, yesterday. Can you please tell us what she told you and what you told her?

PRIME MINISTER:

Certainly not. Begum Khaled Zia and I have known one another for some time. We met of course during the period she was Prime Minister of Bangladesh, we met at Commonwealth Conferences and I think on other occasions as well, so I had met and known her before. Bangladesh has now turned itself into a democracy. It is standard practice in the United Kingdom that distinguished visitors from abroad will visit the Prime Minister and visit the Leader of the Opposition as well, that is the way democracy works and it works the same way in reverse. And I was delighted to see the Prime Minister, delighted to see the Leader of the Opposition and discuss matters with them. But I have to say those discussions are private. I have no more intention of revealing the private nature of my discussions with the Prime Minister than I have the private nature of my discussions with the Leader of the Opposition. I think it would not enable those discussions in future to take place on quite the same basis.

QUESTION:

You are leaving here for Islamabad today. Will you discuss the Kashmir issue with the Pakistan leaders and what is the stand of the UK regarding the issue of Kashmir?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it very probably will come up. It came up with the Prime Minister of India and I think it will undoubtedly come up in Pakistan as well. I think we have made our position clear on many occasions. This is a classic occasion of an issue that cannot be solved other than by India and by Pakistan. Where our good offices can be utilised of course we would be able to assist, but I think it is a matter predominantly for them. We have made it clear that external insurgency doesn't help, we have made it clear that there is a need for proper elections, there were elections earlier in the year. But by and large I don't think that I am likely to arrive in Islamabad and solve the Kashmir problem tomorrow. I think that is unlikely and I think it is going to have to be solved between Pakistan and India.