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Bangladesh inks deal with France to buy 10 Airbus aircraft

Airbus A350 aircraft. (Photo: Airbus)

DHAKA (PTI): Bangladesh on Monday inked a deal with France for the purchase of 10 Airbus aircraft worth US$ 3.2 billion and a letter of intent was exchanged for an earth observation satellite system as French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina held wide-ranging talks to boost bilateral ties.

Macron, whose visit to Dhaka – the first by a French president in 33 years, is widely seen as a move by Paris to consolidate its Asia-Pacific strategy and counterbalance a "new imperialism" in this part of Asia where China's influence is growing steadily.

"Based on democratic principles and the rule of law, in a region facing new imperialism, we want to propose a third way – with no intention to bully our partners or to lead them to an unsustainable scheme," Macron told Bangladesh Prime Minister Hasina in a veiled reference to China.

He said: "All our strategy is focused on strengthening the independence and the strategic autonomy of our friends to give them the 'freedom of sovereignty'."

Macron and Hasina on Monday discussed a "commitment" from Bangladesh’s flagship carrier Biman Airline to purchase ten A350s from European aircraft maker Airbus, a potential contract that could be worth as much as US$ 3.2 billion.

Biman had previously bought aircraft from the US manufacturer Boeing. The 51-year-old state-run airline has a fleet of more than 20 mostly Boeing planes.

Speaking to reporters, Macron said that Bangladesh’s initiative to procure Airbus was "an important point" and "I thank you for your trust in the European aerospace industry”.

“And this commitment for 10 Airbus A350 is important," Macron said in a statement to the media after a meeting with the Bangladesh premier.

A French diplomat recently said France was a country of 60 million so it could not compete head-on with China while “the US is our ally, we have our own interest and can help countries in the region diversify their alliances, so they’re not reliant on one country alone".

A letter of intent was also signed to provide Bangladesh with an earth observation satellite system through cooperation between Bangladesh Satellite Company Limited, or BSCL, and Airbus Defense and Space SAS.

Authorities in Dhaka said they were still ironing out the details of the deal while Bangladesh’s Economic Relations Division signed the agreement with the French Development Agency.

State-run Bangladesh Satellite Company Ltd Chairman Shahjahan Mahmud said that the satellite to be procured would travel through an orbit around 350 miles above the earth.

“This will be used mainly to observe the status of our crops and the sea. Currently, we don’t have any monitoring capabilities across the vast sea,” he said.

Bangladesh bought its first geostationary communications and broadcasting satellite, named Bangabandhu Satellite-1 and launched it in 2018 from France.

According to foreign relations analysts, Macron’s two-day stopover in Dhaka was part of a French strategy to woo Bangladesh where superpowers such as China, Russia or the United States are jostling for influence.

Macron's visit follows a Pacific trip in July to the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, as well as a stopover in Sri Lanka, in which he outlined his "Indo-Pacific strategy" aimed at "recommitting" France to the region.

France is Bangladesh's fifth-largest trading partner in the fields of engineering, energy, aerospace and water sectors.

“We both hope that this new strategic move between Bangladesh and France will play an effective role in establishing regional and global stability and peace,” Hasina said in a media briefing jointly with Macron.

She said: "We both hope that this new strategic move between Bangladesh and France will play an effective role in establishing regional and global stability and peace." The Bangladesh leader said she agreed with the French president to continue to work to ensure stability in the Asia-Pacific region as well as on projects involving impacts of climate change as Bangladesh is considered to be one of the worst victims of change of weather.

She said that France has reiterated its commitment to facilitate trade with the South Asian nation under the European Union's Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus, or GSP+, scheme. The scheme gives developing countries incentives to pursue sustainable development and good governance.

The bilateral trade ties started growing in the early 1990s while the total trade between Bangladesh and France soared from Euro 210 million to Euro 4.9 billion today with France being Bangladesh’s 5th largest export destination.

Macron said Bangladesh was progressively retrieving its place on the world stage as he spoke after his arrival in Dhaka on Sunday after the G20 leaders’ summit in India wrapped up.

Prime Minister Hasina also attended the G20 Summit in New Delhi.

He praised "the tremendous success" of Bangladesh, a rapidly growing economy and the world's eighth most populous nation with more than 170 million people.

The bilateral talks between the two leaders were held after Macron visited a memorial to Hasina’s father, Bangladesh’s Father of the Nation and first president Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

"We both hope that this new strategic move between Bangladesh and France will play an effective role in establishing regional and global stability and peace," Hasina said.

Hasina called the French leader’s tour "a breath of fresh air in international politics" which came days after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Bangladesh ahead of the G20 summit.

Macron is the second French president to visit Bangladesh 33 years after President Francois Mitterrand’s Dhaka visit in 1990.

Russia is building a nuclear power plant in Bangladesh, a USD 13 billion project financed by a Russian government loan.

The Bangladesh trip comes after a series of short but high-level trips by Macron this year to Asian nations such as Mongolia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka.

Macron, who launched France's Indo-Pacific strategy in 2018, the first European country to do so, has talked of Europe as a "third way" in a region increasingly under the sway of China-US rivalry.

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