Thursday May 25, 2017 10:35 PM

Can Bangladesh and Turkey be friends?

Can Bangladesh and Turkey be friends?
Can our businesses find a home in Turkey?/REUTERS

There’s plenty of potential here

We have recently returned from our visit to Turkey. During our visit, we had the privilege to attend a week-long trade and investment seminar series on Bangladesh, organised by our embassy in Ankara, in five important cities in Turkey.

The series of seminars was kicked off on April 27, 2017 in Ankara and rounded off on May 4, 2017 in Istanbul with other events taking place in Bursa, Kayseri, and Kocaeli.

The seminars were attended by as many as 140 businessmen, industrialists, and investors of Turkey, who are widely known in their respective fields.

As per the format of each seminar, the Bangladeshi ambassador to Turkey, M Allama Siddiki, delivered the opening statement, followed by the presentations from the representatives of Bangladesh Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA), and Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dhaka (MCCI) on the business and investment opportunities in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Consul General in Istanbul Mr Mohammad Monirul Islam made closing remarks thanking the organisers for their warmth, hospitality, and interest in Bangladesh.

In his opening address, Ambassador Siddiki sought to reflect upon stable, pluralistic, secular, and vibrant Bangladesh, highlighting our linguistic roots, glorious history of independence, geo-political significance, socio-cultural strengths, and economic transformation.

He particularly emphasised our growing middle-class, expanding consumer base, and demographic dividends. He also showcased a series of commonalities and complementarities shared by Bangladesh and Turkey in terms of historical connections, cultural insights, religious beliefs, social values, and business ethics.

Consul General Mr Islam briefed the participants on the rising importance of Bangladesh in the regional and global calculus, pointing out, in particular, the economic and strategic significance of the Bay of Bengal.

We believe that there are ample opportunities for the two countries to build, strengthen, and expand their business and economic ties, given their historical bonds, cultural synergies, and religious affinities

He argued that Bangladesh not only guarantees a market of 170 million people of its own but also opens up a vast region for the business and investment communities connecting South Asia and Southeast Asia and even the Far East.

It has been reflected in the presentations made in the seminars that Bangladesh-Turkey has a trade volume of about $1.2 billion.

Although the trade is tilted positively in favour of Bangladesh, the figure is certainly far below than that of its potentials, as acknowledged by the Turkish businessmen and investors attending the seminars.

Bangladesh’s export to Turkey is 3.51% of its global share of exports and its export basket is predominantly filled with textiles, jute, yarn, knitwear, etc. Bangladesh’s imports from Turkey are dominated by edible vegetables, cotton, machinery, iron, steel, nuclear reactors, boilers, etc.

In the seminars, some of the sectors have been identified as having high prospects for further consolidating Bangladesh-Turkey business ties, which include, amongst others, pharmaceuticals, ready-made garments, jute products, leather, textile machineries, ICT, and frozen food.

Bangladesh-Turkey investment scenario is no better. Turkish companies have been investing in Bangladesh in sectors like textiles, RMG, carpet production, and computer programming, albeit the amount is insignificant.

However, it came up in the seminars that there are scopes for bringing Turkish investments into Bangladesh in areas of petro-chemical, construction, hotel, tourism, and health care.

However, Turkish businessmen/investors who are now involved with Bangladesh in business/investment urged the Bangladesh authority to further improve/liberalise banking, customs, and taxation systems in Bangladesh.

They also requested to look into the issues of simplifying registration procedures for setting up new company, issuance of work permits, and straightening visa formalities etc.

As businessmen, we also encounter some of the challenges articulated by the Turkish businessmen in the seminars. These need to be effectively addressed to facilitate Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in Bangladesh.

We got the sense that Turkish people have considerable amount of love and respect for the people of Bangladesh and appear to be serious in engaging with Bangladesh.

We believe that there are ample opportunities for the two countries to build, strengthen, and expand their business and economic ties, given their historical bonds, cultural synergies, and religious affinities.

We have also gathered that some of the Turkish businessmen/investors are making sincere attempts to strengthen their connections with the “East” in view of their growing tensions with Europe and restive environment in the neighbourhood.

Bangladesh should avail this opportunity to scale up its level of engagement with Turkey through robust and target-oriented strategies, policies, and planning.

We are extremely impressed to see the commitment and professionalism of our embassy/consulate officials in Ankara and Istanbul in successfully holding this week-long seminar in Turkey.

We believe the strategy to hold such regular small-scale seminar series may be replicated by other Bangladesh diplomatic/consular missions abroad, which would not only reinforce Bangladesh trade and investment relations with other countries, but also substantially contribute to the image-building exercise that the country is currently undergoing.

Zahirul Quddus and Md Mushfiquzzaman are businessmen.

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