Address by Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina, Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh at the Business Meeting with the Business Council for International Understanding in New York ,25 September 2014 at 12:30 hrs
Distinguished members of BCIU
Distinguished Members of Bangladesh Business Delegation
Ladies and gentleman;
I am delighted to join you this afternoon. Every year when I travel to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, I am advised by our Ambassador to the United States to meet business and corporate leaders from the USA. Unless I am really really time constrained, my answer has been always been a ‘yes’. This is so due to three reasons. First, is the merit of the excellent bilateral relations that Bangladesh enjoys with the United States.Second, is the importance that my government attaches to the fast-‐trackingof trade, investment and business opportunities with the US private sector. And third, to keep you informed of the social and economic transformations that Bangladesh is undergoing under our Vision 2021. Let me beginby reflecting on the Bangladesh-‐US relations. The relationsbetweenBangladesh and the US are deeply entrenched in common values, shared interests and mutual benefits.
What are the common values that the Awami League government shares with the US government? They are peace, democracy and secularism. They are freedoms and human rights. They are Freedom of speech, religion and expression.Free media and enterprise.They are diversity, tolerance andwomen empowerment. They areour common resolve to root out terrorism and extremism and keep fundamentalism at bay.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A few statistics will help capture the commitment of my government to promote US businesses in Bangladesh. When my government took office in 1996, US investment in Bangladesh was about US $ 25 million. When I left office in 2001, I had already pushed it to US$ 1.2 billions.
We facilitated US companies such as the AES to be the pioneer of foreign private investment in the power and energy sector in Bangladesh. They launched the Haripur and Meghnaghat power plants and boosted the investment numbers by manifolds. Unfortunately, when my government came back to office in 2009after 7 years, we found that US investment in Bangladesh had plummeted to under US$ 40 million.
During the past five years we pursued every possible avenue to enhance US direct investment in Bangladesh. From a meager US$ 36.34 million in 2009, in two years time in 2011, we secured US$ 117.74 million worth of US investment. Between 2009 and 2013 total US investments in Bangladesh increased to the tune of US $ 331.35 million. In 2014 US still stands to be the second largest Foreign Direct Investor in Bangladesh. And yet this is still low considering your global investment scales. I would personally want to see these numbers go past the billion-‐dollar mark within the next three years. 5.3 828. During my second tenure in office, my government successfully resolved our maritime boundary disputes with Myanmar and India.We are now base-‐free for offshore energy and Blue Ocean marine resources exploration. This time too, among others, we haveappointedtwo major US companies through competitive processes.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The other testament to our mutually beneficial relations is our bilateral trade statistics. As of 2014 the United States remainsBangladesh’s single largest export destination, mostly RMG. And that too after Bangladesh pays a remarkably high tariff at the US ports ranging between 8 and 32%. Last year Bangladesh exported US$5.2 billion worth of apparels to the US while the US earned US$ 832 millions in duties and taxes paid by Bangladesh. Imagine if our products had a duty-‐free quota free access to the US ports. This would generate millions of dollars surplus for US retailers. They could in turn enhance money paid to the Bangladeshi Manufacturers. And our RMG manufactures could then spend more money in the welfare of the workers. Mere numbers cannot represent the benefit we receive from the RMG sector. It provides employment to nearly 4 million workers, 90% of whom are women. By investing in our RMG industry,the US is making a much bigger investment inempowering our women economically and socially. Here, I feel compelled to briefly reflect on labour standards.
During the last one year my government has taken significant reforms to improve wages, health, safety and working condition of our RMG workers. Over the past 4 years I personally ensured many-‐folds increase in minimum wage. From Tk. 1600 in 2009 it is now Tk. 5300 in 2013 for the apprentice. Last year, with ILO we adopted the Tripartite Plan of Action, the Occupational Safety & Health Policy, and amended the 2006 Labour Act to 2013, to ensure greater workers’ rights and safety.
We have recruited close to 1,000 inspectors and introduced a robust inspection regime. Under the ILO-‐IFC supported Better Works Program, the number of Trade Unions has increased from 100 to 230.We are partners with the North American retailers who have come up with the ‘Alliance on Bangladesh Worker’s Safety.’
On the other hand 2013 has ushered in a new era of economic cooperation between our two countries. We have signed the Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (TICFA). This will further boost the framework for our trade and investment cooperation. We have for the first time entered into an enhanced strategic cooperation with the US under a ‘Partnership Dialogue’ framework. All these have happened because US values the tremendous social and economic transformations that my government has achieved for our people over the last 6 years. In the face of a steep global recession Bangladesh economy grew at 6.2% during the past 5 years. Over the last decade we have reduced poverty from 57% to under-‐25%. GDP per capita has increased by 65%, inflation has been reigned in from a double digit figure to only 7.5%.Nearly 10 million jobs have been created both at home and overseas. Export earnings tripled from $10.53 billion to over $ 30.5 billion. Remittance flow also tripled for US$ 5 billion to US$ 14.5 billion. Foreign currency reserve hit the 20 billion club and now stands at more than US$ 22 billion.
Distinguished BCIU members,
The current US investment in Bangladesh to the tune of US$ 331 million is much much under its potential. Apart from energy and power sectors, there are some investments slowly building up in financial sectors. Yet we need morediverse group of US investors taking advantage of Bangladesh’s liberal investment policy . My government has leap-‐frogged the liberal fiscal incentives for foreign investors. These include a most generous tax holiday, concessionary duty on import of machinery, remittance of royalty, 100% foreign equity, unrestricted exit policy, a full repatriation facility of dividend and capital on exit and many more. We have created 7 Exclusive Economic Zones(EEZ), whereby foreign private companies can take lease of industrial land and set up labour intensive industry. We have more than 80 million young energetic workforce available for industrial recruitment as labour. We also have 160 million consumers as your market. Apart from power and energy sector, our government is keen on increasing FDI in our booming shipbuilding and recycling sectors, chemical fertilizers, automobile and light engineering, agro-‐ processing, pharmaceuticals, ceramic, plastic and jute goods, ICT, marine resource extraction, tourism, medical equipment and telecommunication. We are also giving more thrust on establishment of knowledge based hi-‐tech industries. Our vision is to transform Bangladesh into an industrialized DigitalizedMiddle Income country by 2021 and a developed country by 2041. This would be in redeeming the pledge of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh MujiburRahman for creating a “Golden Bengal’ .
As we aspire to become a middle-‐income country by 2021, I call upon US investors to do more -‐ invest more, benefit more from Bangladesh, createnew business partnershipsto take Bangladesh-‐ US relations to newer heights.
I thank you all.
Joy Bangla! Joy Bangabandhu!
Long live Bangladesh-‐US business and friendship