Experts have recommended the government strengthen the country's image through developing infrastructure and abolishing other policy constraints to boost the inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Bangladesh.
Policymakers and senior government officials said the government has established strong information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and it is on the right track to develop communications and transportation infrastructure.
The issues were discussed at a webinar titled "FDI in Priority Sector: Value-Added Agricultural Processing, Digital Ecosystem and Green Capital" organised by the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh (AmCham) on Saturday.
At the event, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Dhaka JoAnne Wagner said Bangladesh has a vast prospect to boost FDI inflow in promising sectors like: agriculture, agro-processing, ICT, light engineering pharmaceuticals, and tourism.
Wagner said American entrepreneurs also have identified these sectors and are seeking opportunities to invest here, but constraints regarding infrastructure and policies are the main obstacles in the way of their investment.
She further said although about 40 percent of the employed labour force is engaged in agriculture in Bangladesh, producers are getting lower price due to less access to the market amid a shortage of cooling, storing and logistics infrastructure facilities.
She urged the government to abolish the infrastructure constraints through public private partnership (PPP) arrangements.
Wagner also pointed out that the USA and Bangladesh have an opportunity to work together in the biotechnology sector–which could ensure mutual interest and transfer of technology in Bangladesh.
Experts and entrepreneurs involved in the agriculture and ICT sectors and high officials of multinational development agencies were present at the virtual seminar.
They stressed the importance of adopting new technology and developing an efficient value chain in the agriculture and agro-processing sectors to attract foreign direct investment–utilising the strong agricultural economy of Bangladesh.
Salman F Rahman, private sector industry and investment adviser to the prime minister, said Bangladesh has developed an ICT infrastructure by ensuring fiber optic backbone, data center, optical fiber connection at the union level, and sending a satellite to space.
"The country is on the right track to develop transport and communication infrastructure with some mega projects like the Padma Bridge, third terminal of the Shahjalal international airport, metro rail lines, tunnel under the Karnaphuli River, and the deep sea port in Matarbari," he said. He added that there will be no infrastructure constraints after the completion of these projects.
He also said 154 government agencies are providing services digitally and the prime minister has announced a zero tolerance policy against corruption, terrorism and drugs. These initiatives are also helping to boost the image of the country.
Salman F Rahman also said, Bangladesh has the eighth largest consumer base in the world, which is an opportunity for American entrepreneurs to invest here.
He asked the American entrepreneurs to invest in Bangladesh to explore the large and exponentially rising halal food market across the world.
He also said the economy of Bangladesh observed 6% annual average growth in the last decade. The country grew by 5.24 percent in the last fiscal year despite a shrinking world economy.
He identified lower revenue earnings of the government as a growing concern of the economy and said the ratio of revenue and gross domestic product (GDP) of Bangladesh is the lowest among all of the South Asian countries. It is even lower than that of Pakistan.
Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida) Executive Chairman Mohammad Sirazul Islam said Bida has initiated many reforms to attract foreign investors through easing business.
"Framing policy and talking about it are not enough to attract foreign investors as they want effective implementation of those policies. We are not only formulating the policies, we are going to implement them as well," he added.
AmCham president Syed Ershad Ahmed said inadequate infrastructure and implementation inefficiency has made Bangladesh less attractive for FDI at least for the time being amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said just verbal assurances by policymakers and framing rules and laws will not attract FDI to the country without the proper implementation of rules and regulations.
"Our focus should be on effective implementation of policies and rationalisation of corporate tax structure for attracting more FDI in the knowledge-based economy," he said.
Citibank Bangladesh country officer Shekar N Rajashekaran moderated the event and said nobody knew how big the agricultural market of Bangladesh was; it is the fourth largest rice producer and fifth largest vegetable producing country in the world.
SBK Tech Venture Founder and President Sonia Bashir Kabir identified the lack of skilled manpower as the main obstacle behind the development of entrepreneurship in Bangladesh.
"Technology and ecosystem are now a major impediment in the agriculture sector. There are only three agritech startups in Bangladesh compared with 450 in India. Agritech, along with fintech, has huge growth potential," she said.
PepsiCo Bangladesh Country Manager Debasish Deb said they started agricultural business–including selling seeds, farm machinery and setting up a mini-tuber production in a tissue culture lab–in Bangladesh, by finding local partners in the strong agricultural economy in the country.
However, he expressed dissatisfaction over a longer lead time to import seeds in Bangladesh.
AmCham vice-president Syed Mohammad Kamal, International Finance Corporation senior country officer Nuzhat Anwar and USTDA senior regional representative for South Asia at the US embassy in India Mehnaz Ansari spoke at the event.