The Qatar-Bangladesh economic relations will see a major boost in 2020 and beyond as both the countries are working aggressively to further expand and deepen the level of cooperation in several new areas, which may include establishing a Qatar specific economic zone in the South Asian nation, a senior adviser to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh told The Peninsula in an exclusive interview.
Bangladesh, which is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, has ramped up efforts to achieve industrialization and economic diversification to become an export oriented manufacturing hub in the region. The country is currently developing some 100 Special Economic Zones (SEZs), which are uniquely designed to be country specific. Some of the major countries which have already started developing their country-specific SEZs in Bangladesh include China (having 2 zones), India, South Korea, and Japan among others. Several European countries have also expressed interests in the programme.
“I request and invite Qatari businessmen to come and take an exclusive economic zone which will be only for Qataris. These country-specific economic zones will be well-connected with world-class infrastructure, including road, rail and deep-sea port connectivity,” Salman F Rahman, Adviser to Prime Minister of Bangladesh told this newspaper.
Rahman, who was here recently leading a trade delegation, added: “We are working hard to deepen and strengthen the bilateral relations between Qatar and Bangladesh, which include increasing the trade volume. We are also organizing events to increase B2B contacts where a lot of people are meeting. Such engagements will help developing business, trade and investment.
Rahman is a close aid of the Prime Minister, a member of Bangladesh’s parliament and a prominent businessman, who is advising the government on Private Industries and Investment related issues.
“Before we started importing Qatari gas, the trade balance was in our favour, which is currently skewed towards Qatar. But that is not important for us. It’s an ongoing cycle of trade. What is more important is to optimize the potential and boost the volume of bilateral trade for mutual benefits,” he said.
Bangladesh, under the industrialization programme, is offering country specific economic zones, and inviting the Qatari government to take one of them where Qatari businessmen can come and invest, both for the domestic market as well as export to other markets in the region. Bangladesh, with over 165 million populations, is strategically located between China and India, and providing easy access to a market size of over $8.5 trillion.
The country, with limited area of precious arable land, is trying to develop industrial growth in a more planned manner to protect the random conversion of arable land for agriculture, which is very vital to the country.
Bangladesh has also been providing special focus on digital economy and IT services. And today it is one of the few countries in the world with 4G broadband network of fiber cable up to the village level, and has the second largest number of online workers after India.
The country is also developing several IT parks and working to introduce computer coding language at primary school level aiming to have an army of computer programmers and IT workers to support the fourth industrial revolution which will be driven by AI, robotics, automation, quantum computing and nanotechnology.
Providing an overview of the Bangladeshi economy, he said that one of the greatest achievements of the country is its inclusive growth story which has lifted millions of people out of poverty. The poverty ratios have dropped to 21.8 percent (in 2018) from 56.7 percent in 1991, and extreme poverty ratio has dropped to 11.3 percent, which is to be completely eradicated by next year.
According to Rahman the country is adding 2 million affluent and middle income people every year boosting the aggregate demand.
The country is enjoying a stable currency and exchange rate, and over the last several years, it has attracted billions of dollars of investment from Japanese and Chinese companies.
“As Qatar has opened up several sectors of its economy allowing 100 percent FDI in those sectors, we are doing the same in Bangladesh. In this global environment we are following the same strategies in terms of attracting investment. Together we can do a lot of things by establishing joint ventures, especially in the field of agro-industry and manufacturing sector for mutual benefits. One of the important attractions for investing in Bangladesh is its domestic market as well preferential market access to the neighbouring countries. We are a young country which enjoys huge demographic dividends with huge skilled labours, with average age below 27 years,” he noted.
Bangladesh has witnessed a phenomenal growth in its exports, especially for denim and apparels, which has increased by more than 260 percent over the last one decade. Its annual export volume has increased to $40bn in 2019 from $11bn in 2009.