Despite challenges, Bangladesh remains a good destination for long-term investment, owing especially to the relatively high rates of return in the country.
Representatives of large foreign and local investors made the observation in a webinar titled "Economic tie of Bangladesh and Europe: New regulatory regime" on Wednesday.
It was the second day of the Bangladesh Trade and Investment Summit, jointly organised by the Ministry of Commerce and the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI).
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi was the chief guest at the webinar, which was hosted by Rizwan Rahman, president of DCCI.
Zaved Akhtar, chief executive officer (CEO) and managing director, Unilever Bangladesh Limited, highlighted the expansion of their business in the country. Addressing foreign investors, he said, "Come for the long-term, not for a few years."
Naser Ezaz Bijoy, CEO, Standard Chartered, Bangladesh, echoed Zaved's statement and said, "I realised in 2008 that this market has potential," adding that Standard Chartered had gotten tremendous benefits.
He said there were challenges in any emerging market, but the returns were relatively high.
Yasir Azman, CEO, Grameenphone Ltd, said Bangladesh had ample opportunities for foreign direct investments and work was underway to address any challenges to that.
In the discussion, speakers also put forth their suggestions regarding how to meet post-transition challenges by the least developed countries.
Rizwan Rahman, DCCI president, during his address, addressed the challenges in increasing trade between Bangladesh and Europe and suggested ways of overcoming those.
Speaking to foreign investors, Rubana Huq, managing director, Mohammadi Group and former president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said, "It is often said that Bangladesh is exporting duty-free. But does this only benefit us? Are you and your consumers also not being benefited? Why is it that Bangladesh being one of the lowest carbon emitters is not discussed?
"Sourcing requires sustainability," she said, adding, "But I am not getting a sustainable price at all."
During the discussion, she also emphasised diversification of export products.
Mentioning the "vulnerability" criteria after Bangladesh graduates from the status of a least developed country (LDC), she advised Bangladesh to join various regional alliances as part of reorienting its strategies accordingly.
Huq further outlined the benefits and challenges of the draft proposal to get duty-free benefits under the recently-proposed European Generalised Scheme of Preference (GSP) Plus.
Addressing the event as the chief guest, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said, "Why will a European business do business with us unless they are treated fairly? We have an ongoing Business Climate Dialogue with the EU [European Union]. We are trying to solve the different challenges faced by European businesses doing business in Bangladesh. Their issues are being discussed with the relevant agencies of the government.
"Ultimately, we have to create a win-win situation so that our foreign counterparts feel comfortable doing business with us," he said.
Highlighting the fact that Bangladesh was sometimes misrepresented abroad, he said, "I urge my friends and business colleagues to work unitedly to protect and promote the country's image abroad. We are often misunderstood by our foreign business partners and there is sometimes a negative portrayal of Bangladesh based on false or misguided information."
Noting that the draft proposal made by Europe for the new GSP last month would be beneficial for Bangladesh, the minister said the draft proposed removing the import-share criterion from the GSP+ eligibility.
"This was done to ensure a smoother transition and continued access to GSP+ status for graduating LDCs. Bangladesh will be the direct beneficiary of this change," he said.
In the long run, however, Bangladesh needs to be vigilant on the GSP+ issue, the minister cautioned.
"We have to remain cautious because there are new expectations from our European colleagues on labour, good governance and environmental issues. The EU has proposed to add new international conventions and agreements to the GSP list -- such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and some new ILO and UN conventions."
Momin Ud Dowlah, chairman and managing director at Eon Group of Industries, among others, also spoke on the occasion.