In an exclusive interview with the Dhaka Tribune, Saida Muna Tasneem said: “I believe that from a Bangladesh foreign policy perspective, we should take a fresh look towards the Asean region.”
The ambassador said Bangladesh imports huge amount of consumer goods from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and other Asean countries but exports very little to these countries.
According to Bangladesh Bank data, Bangladesh exported only $377 million worth of products to Asean countries while it imported $6,934 million worth of goods in 2013-14.
Tasneem said there is a potential to increase export to the Asean bloc, a market of 600 million people, and the government needs to provide all-out support to enhance business and promote the products that it wants to sell.
According to Asian Development Bank, if the 10-member Asean were one economy, it would be seventh largest in the world with a combined gross domestic product of $2.4 trillion in 2013 and it could be fourth largest by 2050 if growth trends continue.
Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are the members of Asean.
Bangladesh has full-fledged mission in all Asean countries except Cambodia and Laos.
“We need to give the message across Asean that the region matters to Bangladesh,” Tasneem said.
She added that from the embassy side she was trying really hard to put the trade and investment agenda at the front level.
“It is not easy to connect to the Thai people as there is a huge cultural gap,” she said.
The ambassador said she was given three target major targets for this year from the Foreign Ministry and she fulfilled one of them and the other two are expected to be materialised at the end of this year.
“The number one key target was to hold Bangladesh trade expo and we achieved it,” she said.
Top ranking 55 Bangladeshi companies took part in the expo held in Bangkok from May 30 to June 2 and received huge response from the Thai business communities.
The presidents of three top Thai chambers came to the Expo and had interaction with Bangladesh top chamber leaders including FBCCI President Matlub Ahmed, the ambassador said.
She feels that if Bangladesh export is increased in Thailand it would have positive impact all over the Asean bloc as the thought process is more or less similar across the region.
“We need to lobby for reducing tariff in the region so that our products become competitive in the Asean market.”