Bangladesh seeks greater US investment

NEW YORK: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has asked US investors to put more capital in Bangladesh to help it become a middle-income country by 2021.

Speaking at a luncheon in New York on Thursday, she implored them to create new business partnerships to take Bangladesh-US relations to newer heights.

The Business Council for International Understanding hosted the gathering at Hotel Grand Hyatt.

She told the businessmen gathered there that government attached great importance to the fast-tracking of trade, investment and business opportunities with the US private sector.

The prime minister described at length the social and economic transformations that Bangladesh was undergoing under her government’s Vision 2021.

“The relations between Bangladesh and the US are deeply entrenched in common values, shared interests and mutual benefits,” she said.

She said the Awami League government shared with the US government the common values of peace, democracy, secularism, human rights, freedom of speech, religion and expression, free media and enterprise, diversity, tolerance, women’s empowerment and a common resolve to root out terrorism and extremism and keep fundamentalism at bay.

“When my government took office in 1996, US investment in Bangladesh was about $25 million. When I left office in 2001, I had already pushed it to $1.2 billion,” she said.

“Unfortunately, when my government came back to office in 2009 after seven years we found that US investment in Bangladesh had plummeted to under $40 million.”

Since her return to office her government had sought to replenish US investment, she said.

“Between 2009 and 2013 total US investment in Bangladesh increased to $331.35 million.”

“Yet this is still low considering your global investment scales. I would personally want to see these numbers go past the billion-dollar mark within the next three years,” Hasina added.

Hasina urged once again for zero-duty access of Bangladeshi products to the United States.

“Last year Bangladesh exported $5.2 billion worth of apparels to the US while the US earned $ 832 millions in duties and taxes paid by Bangladesh,” she said.

“Imagine if our products had a duty-free quota free access to the US ports. This would generate millions of dollars surplus for US retailers.

“They could in turn enhance money paid to the Bangladeshi manufacturers. And our RMG manufacturers could then spend more money in the welfare of the workers,” she told the investors.

She spoke of improvements in labour standards made by her government.

“Over the past four years I personally ensured manifold increase in minimum wage. From Tk 1,600 in 2009 it is now Tk 5,300 in 2013 for the apprentice,” she said.

“We have recruited close to 1,000 inspectors and introduced a robust inspection regime. Under the ILO-IFC supported Better Works Programme, the number of Trade Unions has increased from 100 to 230,” she said.

The prime minister said signing of the Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (TICFA) would further boost the framework for trade and investment cooperation.

“We need more diverse group of US investors taking advantage of Bangladesh’s liberal investment policy,” Hasina said.

She described the fiscal incentives offered to foreign investors, including tax holidays, concessionary duty on import of machinery, remittance of royalty, 100 percent foreign equity, unrestricted exit policy and full repatriation facility of dividend and capital on exit.

“We have more than 80 million young energetic workforce available for industrial recruitment as labour. We also have 160 million consumers as your market,” she told the US businesses.

She called on them to invest in the shipbuilding and recycling sectors, chemical fertilisers, automobile and light engineering, agro-processing, pharmaceuticals, ceramic, plastic and jute goods, ICT, marine resource extraction, tourism, medical equipment and telecommunication industries.

“We are also giving more thrust on establishment of knowledge based hi-tech industries,” she said.

“As we aspire to become a middle-income country by 2021, I call upon US investors to do more – invest more, benefit more from Bangladesh,” Hasina said.