Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh Ito Naoki said on Tuesday both Bangladesh and Japan need to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) as the majority of companies from both sides want such an engagement.
During an event titled "DCAB Talk" at the National Press Club organised by the Diplomatic Correspondent Association of Bangladesh (DCAB), he said Japan was ready to sell Bangladesh defence equipment.
He also hoped that the Bangladesh government will take some measures to hold a better, free and fair election next year in comparison to the last national election in 2018.
He said, "I have noted some positive moves by the government of Bangladesh, including the enactment of new law for the election commission."
Regarding the FTA, he said, "We need to have a new agreement, a new bilateral agreement. Then, the conclusion is a free trade agreement or a broader economic partnership agreement.
"In fact, the ministry of commerce here has requested to initiate a joint feasibility study of a free trade agreement. We hope to start a new framework of consultation between the two governments before ending this milestone year," he added.
The ambassador mentioned a recent survey conducted by JETRO and Japan Bangladesh Chamber that found 85% of the Japanese companies operating in Bangladesh wanted the signing of a FTA to continue duty-market access even after the graduation of Bangladesh from a least developed country to a developing one in 2026.
The Japanese companies said that bilateral FTA was mandatory as once the GSP was abolished after graduation, it would be difficult for Bangladesh to differentiate competitiveness with neighbouring India.
The survey mentioned found that if the FTA was not signed to retain the duty benefit after Bangladesh's graduation, 20% of companies wanted to relocate from the country to other competitive countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including China and India.
Recently, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said that steps should be taken for signing a FTA with Japan.
The Japanese ambassador also said that the inauguration of Padma Bridge will boost foreign investor's confidence in the country.
He mentioned the progress of Japan-funded mega projects in Bangladesh, saying the special economic zone in Araihazar was going to be completed by the end of the year.
Besides, Dhaka Metro line 6 will be inaugurated at the end of December this year, he added.
Regarding project delays, he said that the Japan-funded projects have not seen much delays.
He also said that the direct flight between Dhaka and Narita will soon begin, further boosting investor confidence.
He also touched upon the Digital Security act, saying, "I am hopeful that there will be space for media during the election time next year."
He also said the Rohingya crisis should not be allowed to become a destabilising factor for the region, adding that Japan has been exploring all possible ways to improve conditions in Rakhine state so that the Rohingyas can return.
DCAB President Rezaul Karim Lotus and General Secretary AKM Moinuddin were present at the event.