A New Vision for Bangladesh

Overview of Asia Society report on new US-Bangladesh ties

Speakers at the Asia Society Washington Center's Bangladesh event on March 23, 2011. (Asia Society Washington Center)

Washington DC, March 23, 2011 - The Asia Society and The US Chamber of Commerce held an off-the-record luncheon discussion with H.E. Akramul Qader, Ambassador of Bangladesh, and more than 40 government officials and corporate representatives. Jack Garrity, the Asia Society's Executive Director in Washington gave an overview of the Asia Society report on Enhancing Trade and Investment Between the United States and Bangladesh.

Tami Overby, Vice President of US Chamber of Commerce Asia, welcomed Ambassador Qader, and congratulated him on the fortieth anniversary of the independence of Bangladesh. Referring to the strong turnout of representatives from American companies, she argued their presence reflected the increased interests in opportunities for greater US engagement in Bangladesh.

Overby stressed the importance of the Bangladesh working group, which comprises representatives from leading US companies. The group has been working to promote dialogue between business and government leaders, to shape advocacy efforts on key issues in the bilateral trade and investment relations, and to create greater awareness of investment opportunities for US companies.

Laura Hudson, Manager of International Government Affairs of Chevron and Co-Chair of the US-Bangladesh Working Group, chaired the event. Hudson gave the introductory remarks and stated that the Asia Society's report is not only a story in Southeast Asia but the entire region. Given the presence of diverse group of company representatives, she said that Bangladesh is a country of immense potential and prosperity in Asia.

The next step will be the continued conversation between the US and Bangladesh in the strengthening of economic ties. Secondly, the focus will be the outreach toward a bilateral agreement, Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), which the two countries can ideally negotiate within the next few months.

Ambassador Qader said in this luncheon that Bangladesh has been maintaining a GDP growth rate at over 6% during the past decade, and pointed out that it is a good sign that Bangladesh's exports to America surpassed US$ 4 billion in 2010. However, he also said that the figure could be higher if US authorities could remove tariffs. Ambassador Qader finally thanked again the Asia Society for its report.

Ambassador Qader reaffirmed his support for promoting frequent trade and investment between the two countries. Referring to the country's insufficient energy supply, the Ambassador said there were many opportunities for US companies to invest in Bangladesh's infrastructure, especially in telecommunications and power. Meanwhile, he sought US cooperation and assistance to help achieve duty-free and quota-free exports from Bangladesh to America. 

Next: Power plants and women's education

Jack Garrity presented the Asia Society's report, which provided an update on critical trade, investment trends, and details on Bangladesh's strategic options for enhancing bilateral trade and investment to achieve the ambitious "Vision 2021" program, announced by Sheikh Hasina, in which Bangladesh requires significant economic growth of trade and foreign investment.

Sajeeb Wazed, Information Technology Adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said that since assuming office, this Bangladeshi government has committed to building 50 new power plants, including 15 in the public and 19 in the private sectors. "The government envisages generating over 10,000 MW electricity by the year 2014."

With regard to measures for foreign companies to bring down the cost of doing business in Bangladesh, Wazed said that although bureaucracy continues to be the main obstacle, the present process of acquiring factory land and getting bank loans is much less complicated than it used to be. Moreover, the current administration plans to build up new highways and rail lines to introduce cargo flights, as well as to construct a deep sea port and a new airport with modern cargo facilities.

Overall, to overcome the over-reliance on the garment sector in foreign trade, the speakers at the luncheon suggested that Bangladesh will need to think creatively in terms of developing more backward linkages in the that sector while simultaneously enhancing the capacity for growth in sectors like information technology, processed food, pharmaceuticals, and ship building.

A vigorous Q & A followed the presentations, in which participants posed questions on trade and investment in Bangladesh and expressed their interest in recent steps taken by Bangladesh's government. In response to a question on education sector reforms, Ambassador Qader pointed out that female education in rural Bangladesh is now not only free, but cash incentives for the parents of female students are also provided to prevent dropouts.

Related link:
Enhancing Trade and Investment between the United States and Bangladesh (Asia Society report)

Reported by Grace Gan-Yin Liu, Asia Society Washington Center