By Lee Kyung-sik, Publisher, The Korea Post Media.
Koreans have a time-honored expression, Insim, which means “goodwill or hospitality of the people.” People with Insim are happy only when other people are happy. This used to be an essential part of the national traits of the Korean people from ancient times, which, however, has been changing among the present-day Koreans, especially in Seoul and other big cities. Still, Insim prevails among the majority of the Korean people, especially the people outside Seoul and other urban areas.
Koreans doing business in Bangladesh or having visited the country almost unanimously say that there is plenty of Insim in Bangladesh. And they almost invariably do well in the country.
Insim is seen also among the Bangladesh ambassadors who have been accredited to Korea. One example is former Ambassador Mustapha Kamal. He still shows strong interest in Korea and the Korean people and keep Bangladesh (as well as himself) exposed to the Korean people through social network such as Facebook. He also often contributes instructive maxims and juicy humor to be shared with his former and incumbent colleagues in Korea as well as his Korean friends like myself.
Many Korean business companies have set up their companies in other countries like China but a good number of them have already left such countries seeking a better country or countries to continue their business in an environment where there is Insim.
Now they do not have to look far?because there is plenty of Insim in Bangladesh. More importantly, there are many good opportunities for the Korean businesses to do well. There are hundreds of major Korean companies in Bangladesh listed by KOTRA and there could be many more and they are doing very well. One Korean company in Bangladesh employs some 55,000 workers, which bespeaks the attractiveness of the business environment in Bangladesh for Korean companies.
This was immediately apparent at a recent interview with Charge d’Affaires Khandker Masudul Alam of Bangladesh in Seoul which was conducted for publication this month on the occasion of the National (Independence) Day of the country. Excerpts from the interview follow:
Question: We understand that there are many good opportunities for the Korean companies to do business well in Bangladesh.
Answer: Bangladesh is strategically located for the global trade with access to international sea and air routes and is endowed with abundant supply of the key factors of production like hardworking workforce, natural gas, sweet water, fertile land, favorable climate and social tranquility. Bangladesh offers a large domestic market of about 152 million people with purchasing power continuously growing due to continuous and accelerating growth in national income. Apart from the local market, most Bangladesh products enjoy duty and quota free access to the European Union, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and other developed countries.
According to a recent comparative study conducted by the Bangladesh Board of Investment and JETRO on Cost of Doing Business between the competing locations, Bangladesh is one of the most competitive locations, in many indicators, among the ASEAN, Far Eastern and South Asian countries. There are lucrative incentives for foreign investors like 100% ownership, tax and duty exemptions. The FDI friendly index in the World Bank’s report ‘Investing Across Borders (IAB) 2010’ covering 87 countries lists Bangladesh as one of the most convenient destinations for FDI for its investment friendly facilities and regulations. Bangladesh has unique combination of its competitive business-friendly environment and cost structure that can give an investor best returns.
Considering the high potentials, Goldman Sachs branded Bangladesh as one of the ‘Next 11’ countries after the BRICS.
Scope for profitable investment in Bangladesh is enormous and the list of potential sectors for Korean investment can be quite long. I mention a few of the sectors that the Korean investors should keep their eyes on for tapping the opportunity- High-end Readymade garments Sector; Textile and Home Textile; Active Pharmaceuticals Ingredient (API) Industry & Radio Pharmaceuticals Industry; ICT Products & ICT Based Service; Ship Building; Environment-friendly Ship Breaking Industry; Agro-based industry/foods processing industry; Frozen Fish Industry; Jute Based Industry; Leather Industry; PPP-based large infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports, township, ICT infrastructure etc) projects; Renewable Energy Sector (Solar power, Wind Mill); Tourism and hospitality Sector; Polymer Making Industry; Hospital & Clinic; Auto-mobile; Electrical Home Appliances; and Light Engineering Industry.
Q: What is the volume of bilateral trade and what is its outlook for this year?
A: Republic of Korea is an important trading partner of Bangladesh. The two-way trade has increased substantially in recent years. Bangladesh exported goods worth US$335 million in 2014. Korea on the other hand exported items of an amount of US$1236 million in the same period. We expect the export to grow further this year as it continued to do so for last 5 years. Apart from the conventional export items like readymade garments, leather and leather goods, jute and jute goods, frozen food that dominates our export basket, Bangladesh also has true potentials to export light engineering, pharmaceutical and ICT products to Korean market.
Q: Business people work hard, especially some CEOs who work seven days a week, some out of labor of love others to stay ahead of others in keen competition. They need rest and tourism is among the best choices to recharge their energy. What tourist attractions do you have in Bangladesh?
A: Bangladesh has a host of tourist treasures to offer to international tourists ? beaches, lakes, rivers, hills, forests, wildlife, way of life, tribal life, archaeological remains including historical monuments, folklore, religious and cultural heritage, handicrafts and many more.
Cox's Bazar is the tourist capital of Bangladesh where miles of golden sands, towering cliffs, surfing waves, colourful pagodas, delightful seafood allure tourists round the years. Located in the south-eastern part of Bangladesh by the Bay of Bengal, this is world's longest unbroken beach stretching up to 120 km.
The largest mangrove forest on earth and the home of the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger - the Sundarbans ? is a major eco-tourism attraction of Bangladesh. About 6000 sq. km. of deltaic swamps along the coastal belt of Khulna, the Sundarbans is also the natural habitat of spotted deer, crocodiles, monkeys, cheetahs, pythons, wild boars, hyenas and different species of colourful birds.
Archeological sites are of no dearth in supply. There are ruins of Buddhist monasteries dating back to 3rd century B.C. at sites like Mahasthangar, Paharpur and Mainamatai which are of enormous interest to archaeologists, historical enthusiasts and cultural & educational tourists alike. Dhaka has a number of buildings from the Mughal and British periods. Similarly some old mosque like the Satgambuj mosque of Bagerhat and some old hindu temples like the Kantaji’s Mandir deserve mention.
Q: Socio-political stability, good governance and sustained GDP growth are among the important factors studied by prospective FDIs (foreign direct investors), especially Korean businesses. How is the situation in Bangladesh? Would you also introduce your Head of Government?
A: The present Government, under Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, stays committed to deliver on inclusive and sustainable development in an enabling environment of democracy, good governance, human rights and rule of law. The development strategy of the government is predicated on empowering people.
During the last four years under the current government, Bangladesh posted an average growth of 6.38% which put it among the top 5 growth economies during this period. Healthy current account balance led to accumulating US$23 billion of forex reserve enough for catering the need for more than five months of import. This human development centered growth has yielded some impressive results by way of reducing the rate of poverty from 40% in 2010 to 26.2% in 2014, and that of extreme poverty from 24.2% to 11.9% in the corresponding period. Bangladesh either achieved or in the right trajectory to achieve major MDG targets in health and education.
The government has undertaken initiatives to uphold justice, rule of law, democratic values, people’s empowerment and particularly, empowerment of women. Government’s education policy provides girls with free education up to higher secondary level, monthly stipends to 11.90 million students of poor families and also free textbooks to all up to the secondary level. Various policies have helped creating women leaders from the grass-root to the national level, resulting in electing 14,000 women to the local government bodies and 70 to the Parliament. Bangladesh is possibly the only nation today with women occupying the position of the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Deputy Leader, all at the same time.
Government’s Digital Bangladesh campaign has been transforming the country more rapidly than ever before. IT and IT enabled services are making life easier and more efficient for the people. Recently the Government portal has brought in 25000 websites under its umbrella to provide seamless e-services to the people. Internet subscribers reached 42 million this year and mobile phone subscribers reach up to 121 million ensuring a healthy tele-density for continued digital growth.
With all the achievements in the development and growth fronts, Bangladesh is well and truly on its way to become a middle income country well ahead of the targeted year of 2021.
Q: What are the important developments scheduled between Korea and your country, including possible visit of your Head of Government to Korea. Any economic and/or other delegations coming?
A: Since dawn of the establishment of the diplomatic relations, Bangladesh and Korea have been enjoying excellent bilateral relations. Both the countries share common democratic values. Our bilateral relations are shaped up primarily by political goodwill, economic, and commercial interests. Every year visits of a good number delegations are exchanged. The visit of the Hon’ble prime Minister of Bangladesh HE Sheikh Hasina to Korea in 2010 at the invitation of the Korean President demonstrates the warmth that exists in the relationship of the two countries. Bilaterally, our two countries maintain strong cooperation in the areas of trade and investment, development cooperation and technology transfer, employment and human resource development, education and cultural exchange. Trade volume has been growing gradually and is now nearing 2 billion USD annually. In international plane, we share common views in many issues including climate change, peace and stability, nuclear non-proliferation and cooperate closely in various multilateral fora.
Last year several ministerial delegation from Bangladesh visited Korea to strengthen our ties with Korea in energy, trade, aviation, infrastructural development, technology and other areas.
We have regular visits of chambers and business leader from Bangladesh to promote trade and investment and hopefully this year as well, similar visits will be exchanged.
Q: You celebrate the 26th of March every year as your National Day. Would you introduce your National Day to the Korean and international audience of The Korea Post?
A: The 26th March is a glorious day in our national life. The Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman proclaimed the independence of Bangladesh at the first hour of the 26th March, 1971 after the occupation forces launched sudden attack on the innocent and unarmed Bangalees on the black night of the 25th March, 1971. This day marks the beginning of the 9-month long bloody war and sacrifices made by the people of all scores of life, through which the Nation achieved its independence. The Day therefore, remains as the symbol of unity and resilience of the Nation and its firm stance against repression. Every year, on this day, we renew our pledges to build a happy and prosperous Bangladesh by leaving behind all petty differences among us.