The government is organising an International Investment Summit in Bangladesh from November 28-29 to attract investment in the private sector. Renowned companies and investors from different countries of the world will take part in the conference, to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Salman Fazlur Rahman, Private Industry and Investment adviser to the prime minister, spoke to The Business Standard's Abbas Uddin Noyon about the summit and what the expectations from it are.
What is the summit for?
Our Bangladesh is now a new Bangladesh. When we came to power in 2009, the GDP was $36 billion, now it is $350 billion. At the time, the per capita income was $500 and now it has reached $2,500, showing a fivefold increase. We are the fastest growing economy in Asia.
These statistics show how far we have come.
We have met all the investment requirements, including surplus in electricity, elimination of the gas crisis, and consumer class and infrastructure development. This International Investment Summit is for foreign investors to see that we have entered the era of a "new Bangladesh."
The summit has two main purposes: The first is to showcase the new Bangladesh; the second is to attract foreign investment. We will explain our capabilities and what kind of benefits we are giving to investors. In this regard, this year's Investment Summit will highlight how favourable the investment climate is in Bangladesh.
The upcoming summit is part of our drive to boost private investment. We have already held road shows in several countries, including the USA, UAE, UK and Switzerland to showcase the new Bangladesh and attract foreign investment in our private sector. By holding this summit in Bangladesh, we are sending a message to foreign investors that we are now ready for investment in all sectors.
As you are aware, the goal of our prime minister is to turn Bangladesh into a developed country by 2041. The key to doing this is the private sector. Our per income now is $2,500, but [to be a developed country] we need it to be $12,000. To reach this position, there is no alternative to private investment. We need to increase private sector investment by 70%, and this is the goal of the summit.
Who is the summit for?
We have organised this summit mainly for foreign investors. For this, we have also arranged online registration. Furthermore, I have informed big investors of the summit through embassies of different countries. We have invited those foreign companies which have invested here before, along with ones which have shown an interest in our country. Alongside, we have also invited our local investors. Once they come here, they will get a guideline for investing in the country. They will also learn of the facilities we have made for investors.
What facilities are there for investors?
Investors want electricity, gas, infrastructure, land and ports. We have worked on all these. We now have a surplus of electricity. With the use of LPG, the gas crisis is also over. To meet land demand, we have made 101 special economic zones and numerous hi-tech parks. A lot of infrastructure has been created. Furthermore, the capacity of Chattogram port has been expanded, while there is the Payra port and the Matarbari deep sea port, which is under-construction.
Foreign investors want something more than infrastructure. After a product is produced, they expect it to be sold and to make a return. For this, Bangladesh is now a lucrative option. A huge consumer class has been created in Bangladesh. Additionally, being in the middle of India and China, where we have preferential treatment, it means big companies can invest in Bangladesh and export to these two countries which have huge markets. Despite all these things, we are still getting comparatively less investment.
The reason for this is because we have been unable to market ourselves. This is why we are holding the summit.
Apart from infrastructure, what other benefits are investors getting?
In addition to having the needed infrastructure and markets, we also have tax breaks. Ten-twenty year tax holidays are being given. Duty-free import of materials and VAT exemptions are also available. A one-stop service centre has been set up for investors. Investors are really getting all the benefits of investing in one place. We have removed all barriers to investment. We would like to inform foreign investors about these initiatives.
Many investors have said that the country doesn't have a favourable environment for investment. What is the government doing in this regard?
We have noticed that we are lagging behind in the GDP-to-private investment target. The reason for this is the belief of the investors.
They want a favourable environment and we have already given it in this region.
We have received huge a response from investors as a result of our initiatives. Big companies, including Samsung, Hyundai, Honda and Nokia, have already invested here. Other large companies, including Unilever, have been doing business here for many years. They are also looking to expand. Foreigners now want more land in economic zones than we expected. China, Japan, Korea, USA, along with others, have shown an interest in investing here. Those who have heard of our investment environment, have expressed an interest in coming here. This is proof of our new potential. We see the Investment Summit as a great opportunity to inform of these developments.
The world is now more focused towards IT. What is the response to our hi-tech parks?
Huge opportunities have been created in the IT sector due to the parks. The biggest companies in the world are coming to invest here. We have received several large investments, including from Japan's Softbank and China's Alibaba. I have recently seen some news reports of foreign investment in the startups of the country. Furthermore, a large organisation has proposed creating a data centre. Even the opportunity to manufacture semiconductors (chips) have been offered.
What are the new goals for private investment?
We are among the top 10 producers in the world in many fields of agriculture and farming, including rice, vegetables and fish. Compared to that, however, our agro-processing does not match up.
We used to call the agriculture sector, the agro sector. We now want to call it agro business. We want to change the focus. We want to open a new sector through this.
What are the other areas the summit will focus on?
Apart from ICT and agro processing, seminars will be held at the Investment Summit on the possibility of investing in a total of 12 sectors, including garments, pharmaceutical, blue economy and leather. The main objective of the summit is to give a clear idea to the investors about the prospects of these areas. Our goal is to reach a lot of investors and let them know that we are now ready for investment. The environment is conducive for investment in all sectors.