Terming journalism as a noble professions, he said that it is increasingly, around the world, becoming a difficult and dangerous one. "We see evidence of this in the news every day, and I applaud your tremendous courage. Your role in a free society is vital, and we all have an obligation to protect the free press and to allow journalists to seek and report the truth without fear, harassment, or censorship," he said, adding, "I want you to know that the US Embassy takes that obligation seriously and is doing what it can to fulfill it."
Referring to a recent survey of the Reporters without Borders on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day last week, Peter Haas said, it is not that the US is on the right path of free press; the US ranks at 42 among 182 countries in the recent survey of Reporters without Borders. That means the US is nowhere near the top of the list and so the US situation needs to improve. Bangladesh ranks 162 in the survey. It has fallen by 10 places compared to last year.
Peter Haas said that since his arriving in Bangladesh three months ago as ambassador, he will be going on his first trip to Washington. He said, "I plan to report three things when I get to Washington. First, the successes of Bangladesh are real. Second, the challenges Bangladesh faces are also real. And third, the United States should remain the same steadfast partner to Bangladesh for the next fifty years as it has been over the past fifty years."
Highlighting the successes, he said, according to the World Bank, accounting for inflation, Bangladesh’s GDP has grown by a factor of 50 since 1972. In that year, Bangladesh’s GDP per capita was $94 in today’s currency. Today, it is nearly $2,000. In the same time frame, infant mortality rates have fallen by 85%. In the past 20 years, the number of people living below the national poverty line in this country has been cut in half. That is roughly 40 million people who have risen out of poverty. Soon, Bangladesh will graduate from Least Developed Country status, and it is steadily progressing towards becoming a middle-income country. These accomplishments are real, tangible, and truly extraordinary.
He also highlighted the challenges faced by Bangladesh, including climate change, increasing temperatures that raise the threat of cyclones, floods, crop destruction, food shortages, respiratory diseases, and mosquito-borne diseases.
At the discussion, Peter Haas expressed concerned about the Digital Security Act (DSA), human rights, press freedom and other issues. He said, "When it comes to democracy and human rights, the United States has raised our concerns publicly and privately. We are concerned about press freedom, especially the Digital Security Act, and several draft laws and regulations that could inhibit press freedom. We are concerned about human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances."
He said, "On 10 December 2021, Human Rights Day, the United States imposed sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion and some of its officials based on credible evidence of serious human rights abuse. We are also concerned about insufficient labour rights and poor working conditions in Bangladesh. These concerns, unfortunately, cost Bangladesh access to the US Generalized System of Preferences trade benefit, or GSP, in 2013. They are also causing Bangladesh to miss out on the U.S. Development Finance Corporation, a massive source of investment capital from the United States."
The US ambassador highlighted that Bangladesh was host to nearly one million Rohingya refugees who fled a brutal genocide in Burma. He said, "It is incumbent upon all of us to push Burma to create the conditions to allow a safe, voluntary and dignified return of Rohingya. In the meantime, we must all work together to ensure that the Rohingya refugees do not become a lost generation. In addition to basic food and shelter, they need education, livelihoods, good health care, and security to prepare them for when they return to Burma."
Ambassador Haas emphasised Bangladesh's friendly ties with the US, saying, "I believe that in the last 50 years, Bangladesh has had no better friend than the United States. And that it will have no better friend over the next 50 years. This year, 2022, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of friendship between our countries. Since 1972, the United States has provided $8 billion of assistance to Bangladesh. We continue to invest around $200 million each year towards development programs in health, agriculture, education, democracy and governance, climate change, and providing greater economic opportunities to the Bangladeshi people."
He went on to say, "Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the United States has donated nearly $140 million in COVID assistance and 64 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Bangladesh. We have also supported all aspects of the national vaccination campaign, from storage and delivery, to safely administering vaccine doses."
"When it comes to security, our cooperation is deep and multifaceted," said Peter Haas. "Members of the US military conduct exercises with the Bangladesh military in Bangladesh to strengthen Bangladesh defense readiness, build operational interoperability, and reinforce the partnership between our military forces. We also provide training to Bangladeshi law enforcement personnel and security services."
He referred also to the US-Bangladesh eighth Bilateral Partnership Dialogue in Dhaka in March which helped reinforce the big picture, strategic aspect of our relationship. A few weeks later, Washington hosted the Bilateral Security Dialogue. "On 2 June 2, we will hold a High-Level Economic Consultation," he added.
He said, "We are already moving away from a relationship based on assistance to one that emphasises mutually beneficial trade. I believe our greatest opportunity to deepen our relationship is in building our trade and investment relationship."
"We are ready to continue to work with Bangladesh," said the US ambassador, "and build on the progress we’ve made together in food security, health, and reducing poverty – while identifying new and innovative approaches to address issues like climate change, promoting democratic principles, and sustaining Bangladesh’s impressive economic growth."