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Bangladesh ready for extensive foreign investment

International Investment Summit 2021. Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed/TBS

A hundred economic zones and a dozen hi-tech parks in the making, 11 thrust sectors with high prospects and unexplored newfound territorial waters are among the strengths Bangladesh has showcased to potential global investors.

In addition, a significant decrease in poverty rate and gradual increase in per capita income make the fast-growing, $411-billion South Asian economy offer an enormous market for a wide range of products and services.

And this Bangladesh is the right choice for foreign investors to put their money into, development partners, diplomats and businessmen told the plenary session of a two-day investment summit in Dhaka on Sunday.

Attending the first day's sessions of the summit, top executives of multinationals operating in Bangladesh acknowledged the government's seriousness in fast-tracking infrastructures and a growing consumer market are major incentives for foreign investment.

They, however, said the tax regime needed to be simplified and a one-stop solution was needed so that a cruise ship does not need clearance from 40 offices to enter Bangladesh's waters.

While opening the two-day summit hosted by Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida), Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina assured the investors of a business-friendly environment.

In the keynote paper at the summit, PM's Principal Secretary Dr Ahmad Kaikaus said the 11 thrust sectors have an investment opportunity of more than $75 billion in the next couple of years as Bangladesh is now encouraging private investors more than ever.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina unveils a publication of the International Investment Summit 2021 on Sunday by virtually joining the opening ceremony of the two-day summit from her official residence. Photo: PID

Rupali Haque Chowdhury, president of Foreign Investors' Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), emphasised boosting foreign direct investment for the country's economic goals.

"We are here to extend full support to the government in promoting the investments," she noted, adding that FICCI is in touch with the foreign investors to help build confidence about the government policies and commitments.

Sanjiv Mehta, president of Unilever South Asia, said, "Unilever has been in Bangladesh since independence. The journey began with a lone factory in Chattogram, but the second one was set up in Dhaka later in the face of rising local demand."

With a huge consumer base, the country looks very lucrative to foreign investors and it could be a great investment destination if the tax structure is simplified, he added.

Dr Mercy Miyang Tembon, World Bank country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, said the economic zones in Bangladesh are now playing a crucial role in product diversification, technology transfer and job creation.

"I have visited the economic zones. To me, some 1 lakh new apparel jobs at the industrial zones will be a gamechanger for poverty alleviation," she added.

Nuzhat Anwar, acting country manager for Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), said, "At this stage, we believe Bangladesh has turned into a development model. Now the country needs a strategy ranging from new financing techniques to policy amendments to go to the next level."

Read more: Bangladesh hopes to be invited to the US Democracy Summit next time.

Referring to the Eighth Five-Year Plan, she said Bangladesh will require $608 billion by 2040 for infrastructure, while 75% of the funding will have to come from the private sector.

"The IFC's role will be important to build confidence of private investors in bringing in the funding," she added.

Robert Chatterton Dickson, British high commissioner to Bangladesh, said, "Bangladesh has been making the impossible possible which is widely recognised across the world."

On opportunities and challenges in drawing British investment, the British high commissioner said Bangladesh needs to ramp up its engagement to the global economy.

Photo: Salahuddin Ahmed/TBS

He said, "Internal resources will not be necessarily enough to take the economy to the next level. So, public and private partnership will be needed for a sustainable growth."

"The second thing would be financial sector reform to increase foreign capital. I think the capital market has a tremendous opportunity to be modernised and to grow in a way which will attract foreign investments."

"I think increasing the attractiveness of Bangladeshi bond and capital market to international investors would be tremendously important," he said, adding, the implementation of cross border higher education act between UK and Bangladesh would be a win-win situation to make internationally competitive British education availed by the talented Bangladeshi youths.

At a different session of the summit on blue economy, Nurul Qayyum Khan, president, Bangladesh Marine Fisheries Association, said it is vital to develop technology and skilled manpower to attract local and foreign investment.

His recommendations include joint ventures for fisheries survey, setting projects under public private partnership for Tuna fishing, subsidies for fuel, long term loan facilities with reasonable interests and restructuring corporate tax.

Foreign minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said, "The vast resources of the blue economy are mostly untapped. We are befitting ourselves from a fraction of it. We need integral approaches for sustainable use of these."

At another session, Major General Abul Kalam Mohammad Ziaur Rahman, executive chairman of Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA), said eight Export Processing Zones are now in operation with 459 factories.

"Investors from 38 countries have investments there as the factories generated 47,000 jobs," he noted.

M Erfan Sharif, executive member of Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA), highlighted the tax holidays, duty-free import facility and other tax exemptions to investors at the industrial zones.

However, national revenue board Member Syed Golam Kibria earlier in the plenary session said the board often finds itself in a tight spot as they have to ensure an uninterrupted money supply to infrastructural development and provide investors with tax exemptions at the same time.

Bangladesh Bank Executive Director Mohd Humayun Kabir said the central bank is ready to provide the foreign investors with the maximum policy support.

Salman F Rahman, adviser to the prime minister, said, "It is a new, different Bangladesh that is resilient and adaptive at the same time. It does not shy away from challenges.

"We are more than ready to embrace the post-Covid world – its new possibilities and opportunities. We welcome you to invest in Bangladesh and be an integral part of the remarkable prosperity that Bangladesh's Vision 2041 will entail," he added.

The Business Standard is the media partner of the two-day event.