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Moving beyond bilateralism: Approach to enhance global cooperation

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Mir Mosharref Hossain Pakbir

MNA Editorial Desk: In today’s world, where the relationship among nations is not only political or geographical, but also highly economical, bilateral relations between two nations are getting more significance day by day. The world has become smaller with improvement in terms of technology and communication. Nations now eye on the global markets while developing their products and business. Moreover, countries are engaging themselves in becoming development partners of other countries. The interaction among the countries today has become more dynamic and development oriented. Hence, the bilateral relationship is going beyond its usual concept and affecting more lives all around the world.

It is inevitable that bilateral relations between the countries are having significant impact on the global, regional or national economy as the markets have become diverse and widespread. The benefits of external stakeholders have become a greater concern as well as our movement towards a profit-oriented operation is becoming more evident. We are shifting from a political viewpoint to an economical viewpoint very fast. The least developed or developing countries are getting support of the developed countries to a much larger extent in implementing their development works or projects. It is not only its own citizens a country is thinking about today; rather it is the global citizens drawing their renewed focus.

We often find different countries get engaged in bilateral discussions throughout the world. These discussions try to enhance the cooperation between the countries in terms of extending support on business, economy or regional cooperation. Bilateral discussions create a platform based on which several agreements between the countries take place. Such agreements, which now account for over half of world trade, share a number of characteristics.

Firstly, there is a clear pursuit of speed and flexibility. Secondly, there is nevertheless a concern to conclude agreements that are ambitious in both the scope of issues covered and in the sharing of liberalisation commitments among the parties. Thirdly, there appears to be a relative decline in the goal of regional integration. Indeed, the proliferation of cross-regional bilateral agreements is weakening regional integration and diluting intra-regional trade patterns in the context of modern world.

Bilateral discussions can bring out positive outcomes for the participating nations. Many development works, which are undoubtedly the results of bilateralism, are going around the world. It promotes a partnership in terms of cooperative joint ventures. Bilateral discussions are not only meant to promote business or create development partnership, but also have been used as a great tool to resolve conflicts between the nations all around the world for a long time.

The collaborative conflict style and the compromising conflict style are two positive and productive styles of conflict resolution that can only be achieved when individuals are ready to cooperate with others by considerably retreating from their original stated positions. By seeing conflict as a creative opportunity, participators willingly invest time and resources into finding a ‘win-win’ solution.

Likewise, closely related to the so-called prisoner’s dilemma, there is said to be a negotiator’s dilemma. According to it, negotiation necessarily includes both cooperative and competitive elements. Negotiators face a dilemma in deciding whether to pursue a cooperative or a competitive strategy. If both parties cooperate they will both have positive outcomes, though on many instances that does not occur due to gaps in balance of power between the participating nations. If one cooperates while the other competes, the cooperative party will get a terrible outcome. Therefore, in order to get mutually beneficial outcomes, both parties are supposed to observably adhere to cooperative approach instead of competitive one.

In resolving a conflict through negotiation, the intention, sincerity and seriousness on the part of the negotiating parties always make a big difference. Sadly, these elements have been missing in the dialogue process between most of the countries existing in a conflicting situation. Instead, there tends to be high stakes on both sides like; in the cases of India and Pakistan or US and Russia etc. Due to their rigid, inflexible and unyielding stances, participating counties might always remain hostage to the typical negotiator’s dilemma. All these factors have significantly diminished the prospects for conflict-resolution between different countries through negotiations.

In order to get the desired results in negotiations, relations between the negotiating parties should be based on mutual respect and trust. Otherwise, it becomes hard to initiate conflict resolution between the parties. These conflicts can be political, economic or financial meaning the point of financial support a country extends to another or it can be even in the form of free trade agreements (FTAs).

Mostly, it is seen that, in bilateral discussions, both countries come on to the table with a set agenda and acts very rigid trying to establish their own points. Due to that, the desired outcome cannot be achieved from which the citizens of both the participating countries can be benefitted. Moreover, the multilateral consideration especially with establishment of regional forums like; SAARC, ASEAN or EU is playing a great role in enhancing the heights of these conflicts though providing strong support to their member nations regionally.

Bilateral discussions often fail on the table because the participating countries are not flexible and a friendly relation does not strongly exist. The pre-understanding before start of the real discussion seems to be very poor. Everyday hundreds of doors are being opened for Government-to-Government (G2G) economic relations but very few actually work out in favour of the people as a predominant mindset of the negotiators exists. For that, it is extremely important in today’s world to go beyond bilateralism, to think beyond the box and to identify the real point of interests before getting into the discussions.

Working in different forums is becoming a dominant practice now-a-days as experts meet with each other to trace out the opportunities which can be capitalised in favour of different parties. The success of these forums can be realized when two or more nations participate in discussions for economic or political cooperation. These forums can play a great role from several aspects.

Firstly, it can create a formal or informal environment in which the experts, government officials and mediators can share their ideas or opinions. Secondly, these can bring out critical areas where countries can create a phase of relations based on cooperation. Thirdly, these forums can also make the concerned parties aware of the points of interests of other parties. Fourthly, important recommendations can be made for the related governments on which the public and national interests can be aligned. Lastly, an understanding can be reached among the stakeholders before getting into bilateral discussion.

If we consider the case of our country, we have seen many head of the states including China, India, Switzerland, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Vatican City and many others visiting Bangladesh in last few years. Bilateral talks were held between the heads of these states and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Many of these were very successful as several MoUs were signed as a result of bilateral discussions. But these discussions could have brought a much higher impact if common interest factors were identified through discussions in informal forums.

Few days ago, 2nd Nepal-Bangladesh Business Forum was held at Kathmandu, Nepal. Government officials, prominent businessmen and the mediators participated in different sessions of that forum which brought several important recommendations and ideas which if capitalised can bring huge welfare for the people of the both countries. Presented perfectly, these recommendation can facilitate the leaders of both the nations to create a strong mindset for cooperation. This forum can actually bring out the points on which both governments can create a development partnership.

Not only Nepal-Bangladesh, our country has participated in several forums to sort out the opportunity during the last few years. But still opportunity of informal discussions with the critical decision makers was not capitalised to the highest extent on which we can improve. In soliciting conflicts, these forums could have much more impact as there exist a potential to create a friendly bonding among the participating nations. This friendship can win over lot of hurdles if used with the best intention. Hence, we must maximise the benefits of these forums to increase regional, political or economic cooperation with the other states of the world.

Before getting involved in bilateral discussions, if the governments can reach a point of proper understanding it becomes very easy to bring out the best from the table. So, we need to create different forums and discuss our points of interests and the level of flexibility which we can offer and vice versa. It is a discussion, which can compose a lot of differences, before the actual discussion. Hence, we must be more focused to create such opportunity as that will definitely improve the outcomes of bilateral discussions, and will fasten the growth of Bangladeshi economy.

Going beyond bilateralism is working greatly throughout the world, and we can definitely hope that such initiatives will not only boost our development but also will help us to establish a friendly relation with different nations of the world.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Centre (DRC).

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