Steven Mark Fisher, British Ambassador to Moldova
On 31 December, 1991, the United Kingdom recognised the independence of the Republic of Moldova. On 17 January 1992, the two countries established diplomatic relations.
At first, the British Ambassador in Moscow was accredited to Moldova. Around a decade later, accreditation was switched to the Ambassador in Bucharest, which was culturally and politically more appropriate. In 2002 we opened the Embassy in Chisinau, in the Asito building on Banulescu Bodoni Street. We moved to our current location, on Nicolae Iorga Street, in 2004.
The term “diplomatic relations” refers to the formal communication between states, with each recognising the sovereignty and independence of the other. Establishing diplomatic relations is a symbolic, as well as a very practical step. So too is breaking off diplomatic relations when events demand it. But “bilateral relations” between two countries go beyond mere “diplomatic relations”.
What is the “bilateral relationship” between two countries? For me, it is the sum of all interactions between institutions and citizens of those two countries. This cannot be measured (but, of course, not everything that is important can be measured). In the real world, you just know when bilateral relations are healthy and you know when they are not. Using my definition of bilateral relations, it is safe to say that over the last 29 years we have built an excellent bilateral relationship with Moldova.
The evidence for this is plentiful. Look at the thousands of Moldovans who live, work and study in our country, most retaining strong links with the homeland – as was seen in November’s election when around 1% of Moldovans who voted did so in the UK. Look at the fact that over 100 Moldovans have completed Masters degrees at top UK universities, courtesy of our Chevening Scholarship programme. Furthermore, let’s recall that in the early days of our relationship, the UK’s Department for International Development was amongst the first major donors to offer help to the new Republic. More recently, over 60 projects with a value of over £60 million have been supported by the Embassy in Chisinau since 2015, promoting reforms and good governance in key institutions of state – such as the National Bank of Moldova, promising private sector niches such as IT, tourism and fashion, and the independent media. Alongside all this, the relationship between the UK and Moldovan Ministries of Defence continues to flourish. The UK plays a central role in Moldova’s long-term programme of defence reform, and we are delighted that Moldovan personnel participate in training and international competitions in the UK and at British Military Assistance and Training sites across Europe. Moldovan officers have also commenced training at the UK’s prestigious officer training academies, with the first to graduate from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2019, and another due to graduate from the Royal Air Force College Cranwell in 2021.
The bilateral relationship includes non-governmental activities too. More than 50 UK charities, or charities with UK origins, are active here. And although our bilateral trade is small, business between the UK and Moldova grew by an extraordinary 77% between 2015 and 2019.
Bilateral relationships need to be cultivated. That’s why the UK-Moldova Strategic Partnership, Trade and Cooperation Agreement, signed on 24 December, is so important. It is a very broad agreement, as its name suggests. It provides a valuable framework for discussion of regional and global foreign policy issues, including conflict resolution and human rights. It provides a forum for discussion of trade related issues. Above all, it is good news for Moldovan exporters because it provides preferential access to the UK market – one of the world’s easiest and safest environments in which to do business. To give just a few examples, the agreement provides Moldovan producers duty free access for 2043 tons of plums, 2724 tonnes of table grapes, and 5448 tonnes of fresh apples annually. These are additional to the EU’s quotas for the same products, meaning that there is an important increase in the size of the potential Europe-wide market for them. Both countries want our bilateral trade to grow quickly, as it was doing so remarkably pre-pandemic. This Agreement paves the way.
The UK-Moldova relationship has come a very long way in a short time. Once we overcome the pandemic – which we certainly will, by working together – this relationship will go from strength to strength.