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Commentary: The Japan-Bangladesh partnership for development

  • May 27, 2019
  • , The Japan Times
  • English Press

By Sheikh Hasina


DHAKA – The phenomenal socio-economic development of Bangladesh over the last decade is cited as a development miracle by the global community. Our people-centric development model based on “leaving no one behind” has been the key to achieving this miracle. Bangladesh has achieved 6.5 percent economic growth over the last decade, is expecting 8.13 percent growth this year and is aiming for double-digit growth soon.


Based on the success of “Vision 2021,” we now aspire to become a developed country by 2041. Transforming our young generation into valuable human resources for the global supply chain will be a key component to realizing this target. We have undertaken major infrastructure development schemes to ensure energy security, food security and a better standard of living for our people. We have planned to set up 100 special economic zones, including one for Japanese investors.


Japan and Bangladesh have always enjoyed a close relationship based on mutual trust and cooperation. Saving money from their meals, Japanese students stood beside us during our liberation war. Japan was one of the first countries to recognize Bangladesh on Feb. 10, 1972. There is close resemblance between our flags. Our father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, used to say the Japanese flag reminds him of the land of the rising sun and ours recalls the independence gained by sacrificing millions of lives and our green field. He inspired us to follow the Japanese transition process from agrarian to industrialization, focusing on farm mechanization. The strong foundation of our relations was laid by Mujib through his historic visit in October 1973. Responding to the request of the president, Japan conducted a thorough feasibility study for the Jamuna (Bangabandhu) Bridge in 1974. Mujib’s “The Unfinished Memoire” was translated first into the Japanese language before any other.


While in the opposition, I took the opportunity to build a personal relationship with Japanese political leaders by participating in an international conference in 1992. During my first official visit as prime minister in 1996, Japan committed to help build the Padma and Rupsha bridges. Rupsha Bridge was constructed by Japan and a feasibility study of Padma Bridge was conducted. At that time, parliamentarians and friendship committees were formed to strengthen people-to-people relationships.


Since 1972, Bangladesh received $ 11.3 billion in official development aid from Japan; making Japan our largest bilateral development partner. Japanese contributions have been instrumental in various areas of infrastructure development, including the Karnaphuli Fertilizer Company Ltd., the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel and water supplies in major cities. Meanwhile, our people residing in Japan are also contributing to Japanese economic development.


We are very encouraged to see that Japanese entrepreneurs are demonstrating more enthusiasm about business and investment opportunities in Bangladesh. Presently, 280 Japanese firms are operating in Bangladesh, an increase of 10 times over the last decade. Different surveys conducted by Japanese institutions revealed that the confidence of Japanese-affiliated firms in doing business in the country is improving. The launch of the Japan-Bangladesh Public-Private Economic Dialogue has significantly contributed to strengthening business and investment ties between the two countries including six projects under public-private partnership in government-to-government cooperation..


The Japanese government has been actively engaged to develop the Japanese Economic Zone located at the Araihazar Upazila in the Narayanganj district. In the Moheshkhali-Matarbari Integrated Infrastructure Development Initiative, there is a large presence and involvement of Japanese companies, including in joint venture projects. The middle-income group in Bangladesh is expanding at a significant speed, which is creating an opportunity for investors to explore new areas of investment such as automobile manufacturing.


Enhancing the ease of doing business is one of the prerequisites for attracting foreign investment. So, the One Stop Service Act was enacted in 2018 with a view to delivering various essential services to investors from the same point. Bangladesh offers the most liberal and congenial investment regime in South Asia.


We welcome foreign private investment in almost all sectors of the economy with no restriction on the amount of investment. Foreign investors are eligible to take advantage of a wide range of generous tax concessions and other fiscal incentives. We have bilateral investment treaties with 32 countries and Avoidance of Double Taxation treaties with 28 countries, including Japan.


As part of our Dream Trajectory, we have approved Delta Plan 2100 with the vision of ensuring long-term water and food security, economic growth and environmental sustainability. In its implementation, Agenda 2030, Vision 2041 and 2071 are our milestones of different development flights. We are transforming from an agrarian economy into a service- and manufacturing sector-led growth trajectory.


Some transformational projects initiated by us, such as Padma Bridge, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, High-tech Park and ICT Parks are now visible and we have initiated massive infrastructural development for ensuring multimodal transport system, safeguarding energy security, maintaining food security, keeping a regional balance and ultimately improving our standard of living. We believe our time-tested friend Japan and its people will be with us on our transformative journey to development and prosperity.


Our friendship was tested in the terror attack in Dhaka in July 2016, which led to the tragic death of seven Japanese nationals. It was during that moment of national anguish and mourning that yet again, the Japanese people and government stood by us and reassured us of Japan’s continued support to Bangladesh’s development. Japan and Bangladesh are resolved to fight terrorism and extremism together.


We will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations in 2022. I am confident that with our shared values and commitment to promoting peace and development, we shall ensure prosperity for our peoples. Our twin flags are a reminder of the umbilical ties that bind us together.


From my childhood, I have had a fascination with Japan. I used to collect Japanese art, calendars, stamps, dolls, etc. Japan was always close to my heart. This was transmitted to me from my father. I share his aspiration to transform my country to be another Japan. A new era with hope and harmony has begun in Japan. Let the new era bring us closer, connect us deeper and help us build a safe and prosperous world for our children.


Sheikh Hasina is the prime minister of Bangladesh.

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