Saudi Arabia will soon come bearing big investments as its relations with Bangladesh has never been better, said officials of both the countries.
It is an encouraging development for the country that is earnestly looking to boost its modest levels of foreign direct investment. Last fiscal year, $3.88 billion of foreign direct investment flew in, according to data from the central bank.
The kingdom nation is the largest trading partner of Bangladesh in the Middle East, with annual trade volume coming to about $1.5 billion. Also, the oil-rich country is home to some 15 lakh Bangladeshi migrants who sent home about $3.6 billion last year.
"Our relationship has reached a new height over the last few years, especially after the visit of Prime Minister [in 2018]," said Monowar Ahmed, secretary of the Economic Relations Division (ERD), in a joint press briefing at the conclusion of the 13th session of the two-day Bangladesh-Saudi Arabia Joint Commission meeting yesterday.
Ahmed led the Bangladesh team, while Mahir Abdul Rahman Gassim, Saudi deputy minister for international affairs of the labour and social development ministry, led the 40-member delegation from the kingdom nation in the talks.
Saudi companies -- ACWA Power, ARAMCO, Al-Bawany, Al Jomiah, Engineering Dimension, Red Sea Gate Way Terminal, Honey and Health -- under Council of Saudi Chambers discussed different issues related to investment in Bangladesh. Gassim appreciated the hospitality provided to the Saudi delegation and constructive and friendly discussion between the two sides.
"We have discussed a number of projects. We will hold meetings on a regular basis and sort out all the issues for our mutual interests," Ahmed said.
One of the projects discussed pertains to a $1 billion investment by Saudi company Al-Jomiah Group for enhancing Teletalk's 4G and 5G network capabilities.
Another project was for generating 180 MW solar power by Bangladesh Sugar and Food Industries Corporation (BSFIC) Saudi ACWA Power. A letter of intent was signed by the two parties, with the logistics of the project to be hammered out soon.
Saudi company Engineering Dimension and Bangladesh Forest Industries Development Corporation (BFIDC) has also agreed to build a 100 per cent export-oriented furniture and wood processing plant in Bangladesh under a strategic partnership.
The allotment of a 1,000-acre land by Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority on a lease to Al-Bawani was also discussed.
The Saudi company would conduct a feasibility study to assess the suitability of the potential site, which would be one of the 100 planned by the government to boost industrialisation in the country gunning to become a middle-income nation.
Bangladesh assured all-out support to Saudi investors, including extending maximum facilities under the country's Foreign Investment Policy, and sharing the available information of Bangladesh Investment Development Authority on new investment opportunities and possible future projects.
The Saudi team expressed their willingness to strengthen investment cooperation between the Saudi Fund for Development and the Bangladesh Bank.
They agreed to follow the rules and regulations of customs authorities of both the countries and stressed the need for enhancing tourism and exchange of tourism experts between the two nations.
From now on, the General Authority of Civil Aviation, the civil aviation regulator of the Saudi Arabia, will give equal treatment to the state-owned airlines of the two countries -- Bangladesh Biman and Saudia.
Saudi Arabia also showed interest to recruit Bangladeshi medical staff, including consultants, nurses and midwives, according to the classification of Saudi Commission for Health Specialties.
They would work on expediting the issuance of passports, work visa and other relevant travel documents.
"Sometimes, there were delays in issuance of immigration clearance to jobseekers who already have Saudi visas. In such cases, visas expire and the jobseekers run into trouble," Gassim said. Promises were given on behalf of Bangladesh's expatriates' welfare ministry to address the issue.
The Saudi Arabia will now quicken the process of paying compensation to the relatives of the migrants in the case of deaths or accidents.
The kingdom also wanted to learn about Bangladesh's experience in microfinance.
On the abuse of Bangladeshi female workers in Saudi Arabia, the ERD secretary said every specific allegation will be dealt as per the law.
The next Bangladesh-Saudi Arabia Joint Commission will be held in Riyadh in 2022.