Policymakers, economists and businesses from Bangladesh joined hands in Singapore yesterday to reiterate the country's potential as a top investment destination and vast opportunities the constantly growing economy offers.
They teamed up at the Bangladesh Investment Summit, a private sector initiative, in the financial hub of Asia to convey the multitude of opportunities awaiting foreign investors in the country.
“Bangladesh will not let you down and nor would you find Bangladesh wanting in support of your efforts,” Gowher Rizvi, foreign affairs adviser to the prime minister, told an audience of 80 investors from prominent global financial firms.
The country is “truly blessed” for its location and provides the advantages of proximity to important centres of trade and commerce such as Beijing, Shanghai, Mumbai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Manila and so on, he said at the daylong event at the Four Seasons Hotel.
More importantly, the country has its own large domestic market and unfettered access to the entire Indian market of 1.3 billion people, Rizvi said.
As long as there has been some value addition in Bangladesh, it can enter India without tariff, he said, adding that, with the establishment of the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar economic corridor, the opportunities just multiplied.
About the investors' concerns about the precarious nature of the country's political landscape, Rizvi said: “Instability is more visible than real.”
He cited the continuance of exports last year amid heavy political turmoil as a case in point. “Extraordinary measures were taken. There is an across-the-board consensus between political parties that none of us must disturb the export sector.”
The adviser also touched upon corruption, another pressing issue for investors.
“To say there is no corruption would be a lie and you won't get me to say that. As often in Bangladesh, perception is not always right -- and what Transparency International does is a measure perception, not the reality.”
In other words, corruption is “far less” now and the government has put in various transparency measures, he said.
The adviser said the investors would not have to deal with red tape and land conflict either, as the government has large tracts of land and identified five new economic zones, with 13 more on the drawing board and plans for sector-specific zones.
“For those of you who want to invest, land will not be a problem. You can lease it directly from the government and you will not have to go through the hassle of buying a land which has multiple ownership claims.”
Jim McCabe, chief executive officer of Standard Chartered Bangladesh, the summit's headline sponsor, and Mashrur Arefin, deputy managing director of The City Bank, the summit's platinum sponsor, gave the opening speeches.
Panel discussions on topics ranging from the economy's near-term outlooks to export diversification strategy, portfolio investment opportunities for asset managers to access to country's capital market and infrastructure financing needs, and opportunities for multinational corporations were held along with keynote presentations.
“This conference is one of those absolutely essential events which will expose you to Bangladesh that is different. Yes, we have problems but many countries have many problems and our share of the problems maybe more than others,” Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star, said.
“In spite of it, we are now ready for business. You will do business with us not out of philanthropy or out of altruistic reasons -- you will do business with us for business reasons.”
Farooq Sobhan, president of the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, pinpointed 10 sectors which the foreign investors can consider, including power, information technology and telecom, pharmaceuticals, leather and shipbuilding. IT has particularly been highlighted as an area ripe for foreign investment.
Shameem Ahsan, president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services, mentioned the tax exemption extended to the growing sector for the next five years and the various facilities offered by the central bank.
He tipped the internet and e-commerce to be the next big money churners, while highlighting the recent successes of Amazon and Indian e-commerce site Flipkart and the local bdjobs.com as examples.
Sonia Bashir Kabir, country director of Microsoft Bangladesh, said companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco, Hewlett Packard and Juniper have established offices in Bangladesh, meaning they are looking at Bangladesh as a destination for making money.
“This is what we do at Microsoft: so there are 160 million people and if we can have a dollar income from each person, that is like $160 million.”