PM Sheikh Hasina's speech at Meeting with Business Council for International Understanding (BCIU)
Business leaders of the United States,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Assalamu Alaikum and Good Afternoon to you all.
It is a pleasure to meet you all. I recall our meeting in September, 2014, during the 69th UNGA. We had a good discussion then. I hope we shall continue it today. Your presence shows your abiding interest in Bangladesh and this makes me happy.
Bangladesh and the USA today enjoy the best of relations. It is based on common values, shared interests, and mutual respect. Since I was elected Prime Minister in 2009, our two countries’ relations reached a higher plane. We established an annual Partnership Dialogue, TICFA and regular dialogue on security, military and counter-terrorism. We feel US is our closest partner in combating terrorism and extremism.
Our relationship is reflected by our increasing bilateral trade that totaled US $ 7 billion last year. RMG exports have been the driving engine of this increase. However, the suspension of the GSP privileges by US to Bangladesh has been an unfair and unkind gesture. GSP privileges has been restored to all the countries in South Asia, except Bangladesh. It has been a sad episode in our growing relationship.
The RMG sector employs 4 million workers of whom 90 % are women from poor families. They contribute to household expenses and are able to send children to schools. They are thus transforming the society into a progressive one by supporting government’s efforts to have every child in school, alleviate poverty and eliminate extremism and terrorism. Thus, increasing RMG exports to the USA means more women in job and quicker societal change. Hence, GSP suspension and inaccessibility of Bangladesh’s exports duty-free/quota-free as an LDC to the US market is discriminatory and restraining Bangladesh’s progress in women empowerment, poverty alleviation and the fight against extremism and terrorism.
Since our government assumed office in 2009, Bangladesh enjoyed average GDP growth of 6.2 %; per capita increase of 65%; inflation reined to 6.5%; export earnings doubled to US $ 32 billion; remittances doubled to US $15 billion; foreign currency reserve increased to a staggering US $ 26 billion; food and energy security achieved; Human Development Index increased at annually 1.6%, to name a few economic indicators.
These have helped Bangladesh achieve many of the MDG goals. The Indian Nobel Laureate Economist, Amartya Sen, in his book; “An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions”, said, “Bangladesh has overtaken India in terms of a wide range of basic social indicators….There are features of astonishing achievement in Bangladesh that cannot but excite interest, curiosity and engagement.” These has been duly recognized by many others, including Goldman Sachs listing Bangladesh in its list of ”Next Eleven” and JP Morgan it its list of “Emerging Five”.
Bangladesh is no more an aid dependent but a trade dependent country. Foreign Aid is 1.5 % of Bangladesh’s annual GDP. Therefore, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon has often said, “Bangladesh is today a role model of economic development.” Bangladesh is also a progressive, secular democracy with a homogenous population of which 60% is below the age of 40 and available at competitive wages. It has gas, coal, water, fertile soil and fast growing middle class consumers with increasing purchasing power.
Bangladesh has the most liberal investment policy in South Asia. It includes protection of foreign investment by law; generous tax holiday; concessionary duty on import of machinery; remittances of royalty; 100% foreign equity, unrestricted exit policy; full repatriation of dividend and capital on exit, to name a few. Moreover, five out of seven exclusive economic zones (EEZs) are ready for foreign private enterprises to set up labor intensive industry. To be noted, the USA is the second largest investor in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh invites investment in power and energy, shipbuilding and recycling, automobile and light engineering, chemical fertilizers, agro-processing, pharmaceuticals, ceramic and plastic goods, ICT, marine resources extraction, tourism, medical equipments, telecommunications and knowledge based hi-tech industries. Since Bangladesh enjoys duty and quota free access to the EU, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, China, Japan, India, amongst others, investors producing exportable items could benefit from marketing them to those countries.
Bangladesh has undertaken serious reforms in improving health, safety, wages and working conditions of the RMG workers. It adopted the National Tripartite Plan of Action with the ILO and the RMG buyers and retailers, the Occupational Safety and Health Policy, amended the 2006 Labor Act, and completed inspection of all garment factories. The phase of remediation of the inspected garment factories have also started.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Bangladesh is on the way to becoming an industrialized, digitalized, middle-income country by realizing its “Vision 2021” and a developed country by 2041. Bangladesh has already graduated to a Low Middle Income Country. As Bangladesh strives to achieve those goals, I urge upon you, the leaders of the US business, commerce and industry to partner with us in investment, trade, share of profits and prosperity. Our mutual beneficial business would strengthen our two countries friendship, raising it to an enviable level.
I thank you all.
(HE Sheikh Hasina ,Hon’ble Prime Minister, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh)