Desk report, September 21: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday met the top brasses of the leading American conglomerates urging them to be partner of the economic prosperity of Bangladesh.
CEO of UTC Associates Aziz Ahmed, vice president of Wall Mart Paul DYCK, chief development officer (CDO) of ORBIS, Government Relations and Communications Officer Tamer YOUNES, acting special representative of US Department of State Amb. ALice G Wells, senior director of SKYPOWER Maria VOROBIEVA, Ron Sikder of Powerpack, David Short of FEDEX, Jay PRYOR, Scott Price of Wall Mart International, director of Coca Cola MISSY Owens, manager of Chevron J,J, ONG, Chowdhury Nafeez Sarafat of Karnafully Ship Builders, Saurabh ANAND of Denham Capital, Robert O Blake (JR) of MCLARTY Associates, Peter Bowe of Ellicott Dredges, Richard Brecher of Motorola Solution, John Campion of APR Energy, Ashwini Chhanpbra of Uber Technology were present, among others.
Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali, Advisor to the Prime Minister for Information and Communication Technology Affairs Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed, Bangladesh Ambassador to the USA Mohammad Ziauddin, PM’s Principal Secretary Dr Kamal Abdul Naser Chowdhury, Principal Coordinator on SDG Affairs in PMO Abul Kalam Azad, president of FBCCI Shafiul Islam and leaders of trade bodies visiting with the prime minister joined the luncheon programme.
Addressing the top business leaders, the prime minister said Bangladesh and USA are time-tested friends based on common values and shared interests. The USA is Bangladesh’s major economic, trade and development partner, she said.
Sheikh Hasina said the relations between the two countries have been flourishing since her party took over in 2009 and till date, Bangladesh and the USA enjoy the best of relations.
She said, “The establishment has been witnessing huge socio-economic transformations, and I want to share this with you.”
Annual Partnership Dialogue, signing of TICFA (Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement) and regular dialogues of these forums and dialogues on security, military and counter-terrorism eloquently indicate the height of relationship between the two countries.
The USA is also now our closest partner in combating terrorism and extremism, she said.
Sheikh Hasina said the trade relation between the two countries is reflected by our increasing bilateral trade that totaled US $ 7 billion last year. But, the full potential for the expansion of this relationship remains to be explored. The prime ministers said quite a few stumbling blocks are preventing this potential from expanding to its desired level. These include, among other things, very high tariffs on Bangladeshi apparels.
“While majority of LDCs enjoy duty free market access to the USA under different preferential schemes, Bangladesh along with Asian LDCs are facing increasingly stiff competition from those LDCs because of high tariffs,” she said.
Even some developing countries enjoy the benefit of duty free access under AGOA, and this basic inequality and injustice need to be addressed to ensure a level playing field for all the competitors, the PM said.
Sheikh Hasina said all the developed countries except the USA, and even many developing countries have already granted duty free access to the LDCs as per commitments under Doha Round.
She said Bangladesh is celebrating its historic achievements in poverty alleviation, nutrition, maternal and child health, primary education, women empowerment etc. Since our government assumed office in 2009, Bangladesh’s economy has demonstrated an incredible resilience to sustain an average GDP growth of 6.2 % despite internal and external challenges. The growth crossed 7% mark during the last two years, she added.
The prime minister said per capita income increased by 80 % reaching US$1600 ; inflation reined in to 5.7%; export earnings doubled to US $ 34 billion; foreign currency reserve increased to a staggering US $ 33 billion ( equivalent to 8 months’ import) ; food and energy security achieved.
She said Bangladesh tops the south Asian Countries in gender parity and ranks 7th globally in political empowerment of women, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2016.
The prime minister said Bangladesh achieved Ba3(Moody’s) and BB-(Standard and Poor’s)with stable outlook for the 6th consecutive years. Stable real GDP growth and strong external balances have helped Bangladesh to achieve BB- rating with stable outlook from Fitch Ratings for the fourth time. These have been duly recognised by many others, including Goldman Sachs, Citi Group, JP Morgan etc, she added.
Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh is now the 32nd largest economy of the world (based on PPP). Foreign Aid is less than 1.5 % of Bangladesh’s annual GDP. Bangladesh is today a role model of economic development.
Bangladesh is also a progressive, secular democracy with a homogenous population of which 60% is below the age of 40 and available at competitive wages, the prime minister said. Bangladesh has fast growing middle class consumers with increasing purchasing power, she added.
Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh has the most liberal investment policy in South Asia. It includes protection of foreign investment by law; generous tax holiday; concessionary duty on import of machinery; remittances of royalty; 100% foreign equity, unrestricted exit policy; full repatriation of dividend and capital on exit, to name a few.
Foreign investment is protected by relevant acts of parliament and bilateral investment treaties. It is to note that Bangladesh has already signed Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) and Convention on Avoidance of Double Taxation Treaty with the USA, she said.
Sheikh Hasina said the government has undertaken a plan to establish 100 exclusive economic zones throughout the country. Investors will find all the services available at one place.
She said more than half a dozen exclusive economic zones (EEZs) are ready with all facilities for foreign private enterprises to set up industries. Rapid urbanization fed by increasing consumption of electricity and burgeoning growth of middle class indicates the market potential in Bangladesh for the investors.
Additionally, Bangladesh enjoys duty and quota free access to almost all the developed countries, and developing countries like China, Japan, India and South Korea amongst others. Investors producing exportable items could benefit from marketing them to those countries, the PM said.
Sheikh Hasina said the USA is the second largest investor in Bangladesh and the persistent growth of global FDI in Bangladesh since my government took over in 2009 crossed $2b mark last year. This reflects the increasing confidence of the foreign investors in Bangladesh, she added.
Even, US investment in Bangladesh crossed US$1b during last seven years. We are investing heavily to improve the infrastructure and power in order to facilitate investment.
The prime minister said all sectors except arms and ammunitions, nuclear power, forestation and security printing are open to investment by private entrepreneurs.
However, we invite investment in potential areas such as power and energy, especially in renewable energy, shipbuilding and recycling, automobile and light engineering, chemical fertilizers, agro-processing, pharmaceuticals, ceramic and plastic goods, ICT, marine resources extraction, tourism, medical equipment, telecommunications and knowledge based hi-tech industries, she said.
Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh is on the way to becoming an industrialized, digitalized, middle-income country by realizing its “Vision 2021” and a developed country by 2041. Bangladesh has already graduated to a low middle- income country, she said.
“As Bangladesh strives to achieve those goals, I urge upon you, the leaders of the US business, commerce and industry to partner with us in investment, trade, share of profits and prosperity,” the prime minister said.
“Our mutual beneficial business would strengthen our two countries’ friendship, raising it to an enviable level,” she added.