In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune’s Reaz Haider, Turkish Ambassador to Bangladesh Mustafa Osman Turan sheds light on the relationship between Dhaka and Ankara, including business and his government’s investment plan
What is the present trade volume between Bangladesh and Turkey? What is the bilateral trade target within the next five years?
One of my priorities as an ambassador here is to increase our level of trade. During the meeting between Foreign Minister Momen and our foreign minister, they have decided to double the trade volume from $1 billion, which is the current level, to $2 billion. This is our target. And I’m pleased to report to you that our trade volume did not decrease during the pandemic.
It is increasing. In 2021, it will be around $1.2 billion. So, in the next five years, we can easily reach our target of $2 billion.
We sell a lot of cotton. As an exchange, we buy jute. Almost $300 million worth of jute every year. Almost one-third of our bilateral trade volume is jute imported from Bangladesh.
Our second priority is to increase our investments in Bangladesh. Some Bangladeshi businesses can invest in Turkey, depending on the government approval. For now, we are focusing on our investment in Bangladesh. Because of its growing economy and political stability, Bangladesh is an attractive country to invest. It has a skilled and young labour force.
Turkish LPG company AYGAZ has decided to invest in Chittagong, Mongla, and Dhaka. The main facility will be in Chittagong. They will bring LPG via big tankers and fill small cylinders to distribute across not only the country, but also to other countries in the region.
We are also planning to build a special economic zone for Turkish companies in Bangladesh.
Did you include the defense purchase?
No, that is not included. Actually, Bangladesh and Turkey have good military cooperation. We have military people on both sides. They sign the agreements for training, participating in exercises, and mutual visits. Turkey is a good source of defense products.
Our defense industry made big progress in the last 15 years, we are producing 75% of our needs and exporting a lot. We produce at Nato standards. And our price is reasonable compared to other countries. We also provide training and maintenance. Our products are also tested in the field. Turkish products are very competitive nowadays.
Turkey has developed a Covid vaccine. Do you have any plan to share the technology with Bangladesh in producing the vaccine in this country?
The human trials for Turkovac vaccine are underway and tests on unvaccinated citizens will start soon. Turkovac was developed by scientists at Kayseri’s Erciyes University and started its Phase 3 human trials in June. The inactive vaccine is now awaiting emergency-use approval.
So, it’s exclusively our own vaccine. We will be ready to support Bangladesh in times of need, and we are open to sharing the technology with Bangladesh when the vaccine is available. We shall see how we can collaborate. Bangladesh is also very good at producing medicine.
Developing countries, including Bangladesh, are becoming victims of climate change. How do Turkey and Bangladesh work together on climate change issues? Do you think developed countries should give compensation to developing countries?
Bangladesh has become a prominent country in the fight against climate change. The government led by Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should be given credit for leading the Climate Vulnerable Forum and other countries.
Bangladesh is an important voice in the international arena. So, we are supporting Bangladeshis' and developing countries’ views on this matter. Because what is needed is climate justice.
There is a need for distribution of funds, according to the loss and damage that some vulnerable countries are suffering. We are on the same page with Bangladesh on this matter, and Turkey also recently ratified the Paris Agreement. We will participate at the highest level in the COP26, which will be held in Glasgow in November.
What is the number of Turkish government scholarships being offered to Bangladeshis? Can your government give more scholarships to Bangladeshi students in its educational institutions?
The number is very handsome nowadays. In the years 2019 and 2020, we had 680 Bangladeshi students studying in Turkey. And we provide around 50 scholarships to Bangladesh students every year, annually. We are also working on increasing the number. We are happy to see Bangladeshi students becoming a bridge between the countries.
There are some very successful students who are helping promote businesses cooperation between the countries. Some of them are working in Turkish companies in Bangladesh or also working for Bangladeshi companies who want to do business with Turkey. Some other students, they are academics, some are doing research in social sciences, and some are medical students. So, we are very happy with that, and hope to increase the scholarships in the coming period.
What is the number of Bangladeshis living in your country and how do you evaluate their contribution to your country?
More than 1,000 Bangladeshis are documented as residents in Turkey. To be exact, it’s 1,289. This exchange of tourism and business increases the level of people-to-people contact, which is very positive. And we believe that this will lead to even more people contributing to our bilateral relations.
We appreciate the contribution of Bangladeshis to our academic life, private sector, workforce, and other areas. And recently, also during the pandemic, Turkey has become one of the medical tourism destinations for Bangladeshis. Turkish Airlines is now flying 12 times a week. In most days, we have two flights between the two countries.
Many people go to Turkey because we share the same culture, religion, and halal food.
The medical treatment facilities in our country are one of the best. Turkey in the past 10 years, has become one of the top five medical tourism destinations in the world. So many patients are coming from other European countries for treatment in Turkey. We have very large hospitals with 5,000 beds and state of the art equipment and facilities.
There are very professional doctors and health professionals. Now they are open to other country nationals. They not only treat our citizens, but also foreigners. They have programs for it. There are people who speak in different languages.
Soon we will promote those hospitals in Bangladesh. Some companies are interested to start medical tourism to Turkey. And the prices are also reasonable in Turkey, not like in Singapore or in some European countries.
In Cox’s Bazar Rohingya camp, we have a field hospital. The health professionals, doctors, and nurses are treating 1,500 people every day. Not only the Rohingya, but also the host community. They are treated free of charge in the camps with free medicine provided.
There will be one hospital in Dhaka, commercial under the public private partnership (PPP) model. Hopefully there will be a government-to-government (GTG) agreement, the governments’ joint venture. We are looking for land to be allocated by the government. When the land will be allocated, the process will start. Hopefully within a few years.
What is your perception regarding our culture and heritage?
Turkey and Bangladesh share a lot of common cultural and heritage. It’s not just about religious beliefs though we share the same religion. Sufi traditions are common in both the countries and also the culture of hospitality is very common. Our relations date back before the foundation of Bangladesh; we are very grateful and will never forget that South Asian Muslims including Bengalis had supported the Turkish War of Independence after the First World War, and have respect and admiration for Turkey’s founding president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
How do you see the uplift of women in Bangladesh and South Asia?
I’m very impressed by how women are pursuing successful careers in all walks of life in Bangladesh. The honourable prime minister and the honourable speaker of the parliament are the prominent examples. We all know that in the factories, in the garment industry, most workers are women, and they are earning their bread and butter for their families.
And they contribute to the economy a lot. Why Bangladesh has become a model for sustainable development was because of the empowerment of women. I realized how much women in Bangladesh are contributing to its economy, and to the society at large. That’s very impressive.
Reaz Haider is Deputy News Editor, Dhaka Tribune. He can be reached at [email protected]