New Delhi: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday invited Indian entrepreneurs to invest in education, light engineering, electronics, automotive industry, and artificial intelligence. She said her country had traded up from being an agrarian and apparel manufacturing economy to a producer of high-end products such as robots and ships.
Speaking at the Country Strategy Dialogue at the two-day India Economic Summit 2019 in New Delhi, Hasina said Bangladesh, strategically located between eastern and north-eastern India and South-East Asia, “merits attention of global and Indian businesses as a seamless economic space".
“We can serve as the economic hub for the sub-region. Beyond our own 162 million people, Bangladesh can be the connecting landmass to a combined market of nearly three billion people," she said.
Hasina arrived in India earlier in the day on a four-day visit. She will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi for formal talks on Saturday. Ties between the two countries have transformed dramatically in the past decade or so with Hasina showing “sensitivity" to India’s security concerns, i.e., not allowing Indian insurgent groups to take refuge in Bangladesh or use it for staging attacks against India.
Hasina’s government also allowed transit facilities through Bangladesh to New Delhi, acceding to a longstanding Indian demand to access its landlocked north-east through Bangladeshi territory. Both steps helped boost ties between the neighbours. The successful conclusion of the 1974 land boundary agreement in 2015 further elevated ties to a higher level. Bangladesh has received $8 billion in lines of credit from India in the past seven years—the most to any country by New Delhi.
According to Indian officials, the Indian government has opened up the economic space for the private sectors of both countries to collaborate in a large swathe of areas—connectivity, trade and investment through the lines of credit—with the time now ripe for Indian and Bangladeshi entrepreneurs to invest in each other’s countries.
India’s rapidly warming ties with Dhaka come against the backdrop of China investing in Bangladesh as part of its multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature project. According to news reports, Beijing and Dhaka signed deals worth $21.5 billion covering a raft of power and infrastructure projects. New Delhi is opposed to the BRI as it says the initiative lures countries into debt traps and does not respect sovereignty or address environmental concerns.
Hasina said Bangladesh was “fast moving to a high-value, knowledge-intensive society". “Last year, we exported 12 industrial robots to Korea. Four ships made in Bangladesh have come to India. Recently, Reliance purchased a large quantity of refrigerators made in Bangladesh. Bangladesh also has six lakh IT freelancers—the largest freelancing community. These speak of a quiet transformation where people have taken risks and faced challenges by adopting to innovation and technology," she said.
“Currently, Bangladesh offers the most liberal investment regime in South Asia—in terms of legal protection of foreign investment, fiscal incentives, concession on machinery import, unrestricted exit policy, full repatriation of dividend and capital on exit," she said.