Economic activities had always been one of the components of the diplomatic service; while their role and methods and goals were determined by the actual moment in history. If we look back to the origin of diplomacy, we could see that commerce was the fundamental stimulus for crossing the notional borders and developing interactions among nations.
The Dubrovnik diplomacy, protecting its territorial but also commercial interests, used carefully designed diplomatic mechanisms. In other words, commerce caused the establishment of the first inter-state relationships and agreements.
The present day diplomatic services place virtually equal emphasis on political and economic work. Rich countries and developing nations alike consider the mobilisation of inward foreign direct investment (FDI) and export promotion as the essence of advancing interests in foreign countries. Over a dozen nations around the world use the Australian and Canadian model of an integrated ministry that handles foreign affairs and external trade; others, like UK, have achieved similar unity of action with joint new structures that handle trade and investment promotion through the embassy network under the direct charge of the Foreign Office. Thus economy has become a major component of contemporary "integrated diplomacy". In a word, economics permeates diplomacy.
A diplomat needs to understand the dynamics of world affairs and to integrate economics into all his work. At the headquarters, politics and economics are intertwined in bilateral and multilateral work. In the embassy, every diplomatic official, regardless of work domain, must weave into his or her job the economic perspective in the same manner that he or she also keeps an eye on the political dimension. As yet political relation is and will be the base for structuring better economic relation.
In today's world of globalisation, diplomacy is characterised by economic interdependency of different countries; that means economy has become the decisive element in international relationship. It has, in many cases, become the determining component of the level of relationships among countries and more often it dictates direction, content and intensity of political relationships among countries. Therefore, economy has gained the central role in diplomatic activities; the border between traditional political and economic diplomatic activities is becoming ever thinner. By this time, it has been proved the economic diplomacy has expanded beyond the conventional limits of its scope and field of activity.
The present age diplomats need to accept, on one hand, the challenges he or she faces in implementing the policies of economic diplomacy and on other hand, the outcome of his or her efforts. It is fact that the activities of economic diplomacy, even far more than other diplomatic aspects, provide a wide range of opportunities to apply innovative operation models. These activities require a proactive approach to work and "tools", as well as the utilisation of conditions and development of interdependence between the aspects which may not exhibit clear correlative elements at the first glance, but which have powerful effects on the affirmation of national economic interests eventually. It is, no doubt, a challenging job and a diplomat must accept that whole-heartedly.
The success of a diplomat lies in the finest accomplishment of the process for a maximum output.
Economic diplomacy as management of the mechanisms to achieve economic goals on bilateral and multilateral levels is a key instrument for developing efficient collaboration on a global level. The complementariness of economic interests which arises from the collaboration between countries or regions, as well as efficiently overcoming the differences caused by the differing ways in which countries perceive their economic priorities, will contribute to the development of stronger social, economic and political relationships in the world, and in this process the role of diplomacy is irreplaceable.
Diplomatic missions are the branches when the country with all of its establishments and people at home is the tree. Therefore, the basic tasks of the creators of a country's economic development strategies on the international level are the identification of its actual export capacity and potentials on targeted markets, designation of priority markets and methods of approach to those markets, developing promotional strategies in the recipient countries and defining obstacles to achieving desired goals. On the other hand, a diplomatic mission is crucial in providing its ministry with data about the market and information gathered through a number of sources it has access to in the recipient country. This includes the information on the basic principles and the structure of the economy as well as demographic differentials of the recipient country. The missions will also furnish their assessments and recommendations to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for future course of action. Their reports would certainly contribute a lot in strategy planning at home.
In Bangladesh today there can no longer be any doubt about the importance of economic diplomacy. Attracting foreign investment, promoting exports and helping to find employment opportunities for our nationals, should be considered as priority tasks of our diplomats. This is where there is a compelling need for efficient coordination between our missions abroad and the private sector. Therefore, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its missions abroad must be equipped to shoulder this responsibility. Of course, the success of our economic diplomacy will require the fullest support and cooperation of all branches of the government.
Bangladesh nationals working abroad play a very important role in fuelling the economic life of Bangladesh. The remittance we receive from our migrant workers account as one of the highest earnings. It is, therefore, one of our major economic concerns and has every reason to claim to be taken care of, like other foreign currency earning resources, by our Government and private sector. As a part of the government machinery, Bangladesh missions abroad have also a vital role to play in the entire process of migration of our people.
Besides political, cultural or religious importance, the economic contribution of Bangladesh migrant workers convinced the Government of Bangladesh to set up diplomatic missions in those countries having a considerable concentration of its nationals. In addition to our diplomatic missions at ambassadorial level, there are consulates general in some of those countries. Even some of those missions have labour wings, the main responsibility of which is to look after labour related issues. Officials of other wings also keep themselves engaged in these works especially consular services, whenever necessary.
It may go against the grain of internal work allocation, but a ''task force'' method is often useful, which involves the entire mission team in handling specified economic tasks such as our migrant workers issue and promotion of our exportable products. Some believe that such wide distribution of tasks treads into the work domain of the commercial or economic officials, but the advantage is full engagement of the entire team. Even our missions abroad can involve the Bangladesh nationals holding important positions in the recipient country, prominent businesspersons or even government officials and employers of the recipient country in different kinds of outreach activities. This acknowledges the reality that relationship building is not the exclusive job of the official representatives; others can contribute, if only they are asked. The head of such team should always be the head of the mission. It would also be the duty of the head of mission to harmonise the direction and working method of the mission with the prevailing situation there as well the requirements and instructions from Bangladesh. This will not only ease the migration process but create a very friendly working environment to solve any problems arise.
Therefore, the simultaneous responsibilities of our officials working in Bangladesh missions abroad are to maintain firstly an excellent political relationship with foreign countries and secondly, but most important for us, to explore, facilitate and widen markets for our goods and services. Our diplomats are the 'on ground instruments' of the government to deal these issues directly with the host governments and concerned private establishments. Our officials in the missions should keep in mind that careful and precise preparation is indispensable for good results, consisting of scrupulous programme preparation and pre-arrival matchmaking, to identify serious interest among the parties involved on both sides. This is possible only when our missions are equipped with proper comprehensive information. In this regard, it is needless to repeat the alertness of our diplomats in understanding the economic dynamics of the recipient as well as his or her own country.
In view of our huge migrants in a number of countries and the existing potentials yet to be explored there, our missions are very serious on this particular issue. But, still it is felt that more emphasis on strengthening our missions is required. To cope up with our aspiration and the requirements of the recipient countries, our diplomats should be more aggressive in exploring new lines of thoughts and local potential employers. Creation of a brotherly environment may also help them in bringing a smooth and positive advancement in recruiting our workers to those countries and having better treatment once they are there. In this way, our missions can play the role of coordinators and provide guidance and support to redress the grievances of our expatriate nationals.
The cadre officers, mainly the administrative cadre, man labour wings of our missions. These officers are posted to this assignment usually for four years and once in their career. As there is no such labour related cadre and these selected officers do not have any previous experience or training on this kind obvious that the outcome from their performance would not be at the desired level. Even, once the concerned recruitment board selects these officers, they are not provided with any oriented training before their departure. As a result, it takes few months to accommodate themselves with the new environment of their workplace as well the mode of operation they are going to undertake. This happens not to due to their faults, but the entire mechanism is such that nobody has tried to bring into a more productive cycle. On the other hand, the career diplomats are doing this job in our missions having no separate labour wings (maximum missions have no separate labour wing). In many cases, they are producing better results due to experiences they gained from their previous postings. An officer selected for labour wing may be advised to take at least a very relevant short-term comprehensive training before his or her departure.
Migration related work offers scope for innovation and needs a proactive mindset, perhaps more than any other aspect of diplomatic work. Beyond the list of tried and tested methods, involvement of the full mission team has the advantage of producing new approaches and inventiveness. The labour wings of our missions have the full time engagement with the migrant workers issue; but the heads of those missions may also keep engaged any officials of other wings for those works whenever necessary. The head of mission should distribute the work among his officials there on the basis of our national priority and interests as well their expertise. At the same time, periodical discussion on their performance and future action plan under the chair of the head of mission will produce good output ultimately.
It is also the responsibility of the government and the private sector to keep our missions abroad fully briefed and the foreign Ministry must respond promptly to the initiatives taken by our ambassadors and our missions abroad. Our ambassadors must be performance oriented. Their performance must be closely scrutinised. The government must ensure that the right person is chosen for each post. Bangladesh simply cannot afford the luxury of non-performing ambassadors. Economic diplomacy is vital to our survival and must be one of the key facets of government policy today. Any relaxation in this process will be a great loss for our national economy.
It is needless to say that we must protect our citizens' rights and for this, our missions' officials should extend their maximum support without fear.
The welfare of our workers should never be sacrificed for fear of upsetting the commercial applecart. Accessible mechanisms for redressing grievances of migrant workers and minimising violations of their rights should be developed. In these mechanisms the concerned ministries and agencies should share the responsibilities with our missions abroad.
We are living in the time of endless opportunities. For those who have the necessary knowledge, computer skills and access to global information infrastructure, almost anything becomes possible. It is necessary to become aware of our objective capabilities and needs, the reality of the moment, the circumstances of our environment, to improve our knowledge and self-education and to use innovation and excellence in our daily work. With these elements, our professional diplomats would be able to widen the job opportunities for our nationals in the global market with the support of our reliable and efficient economic diplomacy. I believe our diplomats will be able to build a new way for our migrant workers by a combination of self-reliance and entrepreneurial verve, enhanced by government and private sector support and discipline, and a sense of responsibility and commitment.
The writer is former Ambassador