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Bangladesh seeks Singapore investments

Singapore is considered an important strategic partner and the country sees potential for cooperation.

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Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with PM Lee Hsien Loong on a visit to Singapore in 2018. "We see a much higher level of interest among local companies to do business in Bangladesh," says High Commissioner in Singapore, Md Mustafizur Rahman.

SINGAPORE companies are showing an increasing interest to invest in Bangladesh in view of the friendly bilateral relations and improving economic conditions in the country of 167 million people with a growing middle class. A business delegation from Singapore visited Bangladesh last August to explore investment opportunities, says its High Commissioner in Singapore, Md Mustafizur Rahman.

"There are good prospects for furthering the existing mutually beneficial relationship between Bangladesh and Singapore. Bangladesh can be a good destination for Singapore investment. Bangladesh is a fast-growing economy offering investment opportunities in areas such as infrastructure development, port management, electronics, real estate, technical education, healthcare and other service and technical sectors," says Mr Rahman in an interview with The Business Times to mark the Bangladesh National Day today.

"Singapore can cash in on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's offer of land for Singapore investors and establish a Singapore Economic Zone in Bangladesh to produce goods and services taking advantage of the low labour cost, liberal investment regime and the other monetary incentives offered by the government for foreign investment in Bangladesh."

However, trade imbalance is a potential area of concern for Bangladesh as the two-way trade is heavily skewed towards Singapore. Both countries need to find pragmatic ways to narrow the trade imbalance, he adds.

Mr Rahman says he sees growth potential in the manpower sector.

The High Commissioner says that currently there are about 120,000 Bangladeshi workers here who are mostly employed in construction, marine and shipyard sectors. Bangladeshis are also working in the conservancy sector as cleaners in town councils and as landscapers. Some 500 Bangladeshis are in Singapore as mariners, engineers and businessmen. Many of them hold Singapore citizenship or are permanent residents.

"The standard of education in Singapore is very high and this is well known in Bangladesh. However, we do not presently have significant collaboration in the education sector, except a few training courses being conducted at some institutes for the professionals and civil servants. Only about 25 students, a fairly negligible number, are currently studying in various educational institutions in Singapore. Unfortunately, Singapore's world class educational system and institutions fail to attract many Bangladeshi students partly because of high tuition fees and living expenses, lack of scholarships, absence of work permit during study and lack of employment as well as other opportunities offered in advanced countries at the end of their study," says Mr Rahman.

"Despite these facts, we still recognise that there is potential for cooperation. Discussions are presently going on with several academic institutions here. I hope, we will be able to make some progress in this matter. In the realm of culture, I must admit that the level of institutional cooperation is minimal. To enhance cultural cooperation, both the governments are working on a Memorandum of Understanding," he adds.

The Bangladesh envoy says that his country and Singapore have enjoyed a friendly relationship ever since 1972 when diplomatic ties were formally established.

"For Bangladesh, Singapore is a role model of development. The stellar transformation of Singapore from a third world country to a developed one within a short span of time has inspired our own journey for economic emancipation. We have a lot to learn from Singapore - how it achieved economic prosperity through fostering political stability and maintaining social harmony, as well as strengthening regional cooperation," says Mr Rahman.

"We are closely connected through trade, tourism and labour flows. A large number of Bangladeshis, including government officials and high level political office holders, visit Singapore regularly for tourism and medical purposes. Singapore's relations with Bangladesh are sustained by an increasing interest of its companies to invest in and do business with Bangladesh as we import huge quantity of goods and services from Singapore. Bangladesh and Singapore share a similar outlook on most global issues and take mutually supportive positions in international forums."

The High Commissioner says that while Bangladesh may not be a priority country for Singapore to push for stronger bilateral relations with, "the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Singapore in 2018 appears to have infused a lot of enthusiasm among the Singapore leadership to explore the opportunities presented by an economically rising Bangladesh. We see a much higher level of interest among the local companies to do business in Bangladesh."

Turning to the importance of March 26, which is the Independence and National Day of Bangladesh, he says: "On this day in 1971, Bangladesh proclaimed independence. The nine-month long bloody struggle for independence began under the leadership of the Father of our Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. This year, we are celebrating the birth centenary of Bangabandhu. Next year, we will be celebrating the Golden Jubilee of our independence."

BANGABANDHU AND BANGLADESH

The High Commission is planning to organise a week long art exhibition later this year themed on 'Bangabandhu and Bangladesh'. It is also contemplating arranging a high level seminar to highlight the vision and aspirations of this larger than life personality."

Bangladesh is today a politically stable country with a sound economy and is socially thriving. Its transformation has taken place especially in the last decade under the dynamic and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is serving her fourth term as head of government.

"During this period, the country's economy has enjoyed steady growth with its benefits spreading across society. The growth has been accompanied by significant decline in poverty, increase in employment, greater access to health and education and improved basic infrastructure. This transformation has been greatly facilitated by the success of the garment industry and the sustained inflow of remittances," says Mr Rahman.

"In 2009, the Government launched 'Vision 2021' - a vision to transform Bangladesh into a knowledge based, technology driven middle income country by 2021. We have made good progress in our journey towards achieving these milestones. Meeting the United Nation's criteria for graduating from the least developed country status in 2018 was a watershed event for Bangladesh," he adds.

Over the last 10 years, the country's economy has registered an average annual growth rate of above 7 per cent. Most macro-economic indicators have risen steadily, and the balance of trade remains healthy. The Spectator Index 2019 had highlighted that Bangladesh experienced 188 per cent expansion of its gross domestic product (GDP) at current prices over the last 10 years. In nominal terms, the GDP has grown from US$102 billion in 2009 to US$302 billion in 2019. Per capita income now stands at US$1,909.

Bangladesh's social indicators, such as gender equity, women empowerment, mortality rate, life expectancy, immunisation and access to water and sanitation are remarkably better compared to many of its South Asian neighbours, says the High Commissioner. "Our micro credit programme has helped rural women become economically empowered. Bangladesh has also achieved near self-sufficiency in food production for its 167 million plus population. We have created an extensive network of 18,000 community clinics and union health centres to provide the entire population with health-care coverage. As a result, the number of cases of maternal, infant and child mortality, malnutrition, stunting and low weight declined at a significant rate."

But Bangladesh has its own challenges being a small country with scarce natural resources and a huge population. " This pool of huge work force needs to be transformed into human resources to yield the economic dividend. For this, proper education and skill development are a must. We need to generate employment opportunities for the youth through industrialisation, trade expansion, and increasing manpower export.

EXPANSION AND DIVERSIFICATION

"Manufacturing and service sectors as well as our export basket need to be expanded and diversified. We also need to find out a solution to cope with the adverse effect of climate change and sustainable urbanisation. To inject more vibrancy in the country's economy, we have to attract more foreign direct investments," says Mr Rahman.

The Bangladesh High Commission keeps engaged in various networking activities to highlight the positive changes taking place here to people back home in Bangladesh. It holds workshops and seminars for the business community in Singapore as well as meetings with Bangladeshi professionals who have made Singapore their home.

"Bangladesh considers Singapore as an important strategic partner. The High Commission has strengthened its relationship with Enterprise Singapore, the Singapore Civil Service College and Infrastructure Asia, in recent times. We expect more collaboration between both countries on achieving good governance in public service delivery, building environment friendly sustainable cities in Bangladesh and also sharing experience on integrated sea-port management and in supporting sustainable infrastructure development," he adds.