Korean Ambassador in Dhaka Lee Yun-young has said Bangladesh should come out from protectionism and open up its market for big investors with a view to removing its anti-FDI (foreign direct investment) atmos-phere.
“As Bangladesh’s ‘enduring friend’, Korea wants to see more ‘success stories’ through a stronger partnership with Bangladesh in the coming days overcoming all the challenges, including an ‘anti-FDI’ atmosphere here right now,” the Korean envoy told in an interview.
The envoy said Bangladesh’s preparation to that end should start right now to find ways to make its economic base stronger by competing with other countries as Bangladesh wants to join the middle-income club by 2021.
Korea which feels very proud of sowing seeds of RMG industry in Bangladesh, now the world’s second RMG producing country, thinks Bangladesh still has potentials among the Asian countries.
“Political uncertainty, inadequate infrastructure, and shortage of power and gas supply and ‘image deficiency’ overshadow the potential,” said Ambassador Lee.
Talking to this correspondent at his office on Thursday, the diplomat said, “In the future, you have to invite big manufacturing plants and attract big investors here to take the opportunity to export to potential markets, including India, Southeast Asian countries and even Africa.”
He thinks if Bangladesh can successfully invite Korean companies -- Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics and other big companies in KEPZ removing all the obstacles it will encourage other investors of the world to follow.
Campaign for Investment
The Ambassador floated an idea for Bangladesh to launch a ‘combined campaign’ comprising ministers, gov-ernment officials and leading businesspeople in potential destinations to attract major investments in Bangla-desh.
“You’ve to dispatch such type of combined campaign teams to major countries to promote investment and at-tract major companies to come to Bangladesh,” he said.
The envoy thinks Bangladesh should start such promotional campaign right now. “Let them (potential global investors) know that Bangladesh is a promising economy and good destination for investment,” he said adding that the Korea also did the same job in the past.
Disappointment over KEPZ
The Korean Ambassador expressed disappointment over ‘very complex bureaucracy’ and the impediments faced by the Korean Export Processing Zone (KEPZ); and drew attention of Bangladesh’s top authority to re-move those problems very quickly.
“We want to invest more in KEPZ according to our master plan. If fully developed, 300,000 new jobs and US$ 1.5 billion new export will be created through the KEPZ,” he said.
“If Bangladesh can’t solve the issue (KEPZ), Bangladesh will not be able to attract any major investment. This is very serious issue. We want equal treatment like other EPZ. This is our simple request,” said the diplomat.
No other EPZ in Bangladesh has restrictions on products and investments, the envoy observed. “We’re facing discriminations here though we’re valuable partner of Bangladeshis. For us new investment is restricted. I don’t know why. “
Diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Korea has ‘fallen’ in the 41st year this year. “I think it’s a turning point for our relationship. We’ve many challenges and opportunities together ahead. The challenges can turn into opportunities.”
He said both the countries would have to find ways to increase trade and investment. “The annual bilateral trade now stands at US$ 1.8-1.9 billion. But during the last three-four years, it remained in a stagnant stage; it’s neither declining nor even increasing.”
But it is a piece of good news for Bangladesh that its export to Korea is increasing indicating that Korean export to Bangladesh is declining, said the Korean envoy.
Korea imported products worth US$ 530 billion last year but Bangladesh’s market share is only 0.6 percent.
“Bangladeshi entrepreneurs need to take utmost efforts to increase export to Korea. Actually, Korea, Japan and China are big markets,” he said.
The Korean envoy said the weak point for Bangladesh economy is that Bangladesh’s trade is too much depen-dent on the Europe and the US markets. “So, export should be diversified to other potential new markets. In that sense, foreign investment should be encouraged here,” Lee said.
Korea is a unique country among the advanced economies which recruits Bangladeshi workers regularly and every year. “This year’s quota is 2700 and they’re in the process to go to Korea.”
He said Korea is also a unique country in the world which treats Bangladeshi workers on an equal term with local ones.
“There is no discrimination. They fully enjoy minimum wage, more than US$ 1000 dollar per month and the amount stands at almost US$ 2000 with overtime and other benefits,” he added.
BD needs to join Asean
The diplomat thinks Bangladesh should expand its network through joining more regional blocks. “You should become the member of Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), it’ll broaden your horizon.”
He said Bangladesh will get benefited in many ways if it becomes Asean member. “All (members) are benefit-ing from the Asean. Bangladesh should be the dialogue partner first. Then you can knock the door for full membership.”
BD needs to develop own brand
South Korea has its own brands with a number of globally renowned brands. “Try to develop and promote your own brand. You’ve to escape current situation. You’re totally dependent on foreign buyers. If you continue with such dependency, you can’t survive in the long run,” said the Korean diplomat.
Bangladeshi media should play a role in encouraging and promoting pro-FDI climate here. “It’s very impor-tant.”
Bangladesh has already lost an opportunity of new investment as China and Vietnam opened their markets. He mentioned that Vietnam was behind Bangladesh 10 years ago but now many people say Vietnam is 10 years ahead of Bangladesh. “Accepting the reality, it’s time to start. Motivation is very important.”
He said Vietnam chose Korea as strategic partner and there has been a total change in Vietnamese economy, thanks to Korean investors. Over 3300 investors exported more than US $ 40 billion in the last year and the number one export item was cellular phones by Samsung Electronics.
“Media needs to take the lead and fight against any protectionism. You have to fight and guide to open your market to the world,” he said.
The diplomat described relations between Bangladesh and Korea as unique one. “We’ve enjoyed excellent bila-teral friendship…we’ve have enjoyed very unique relationship.”
He said he invited two business delegations from Bangladesh to Korea in July and November last year and will invite another delegation comprising Korea Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and BGMEA and some others in September next to Korea.
“That is part of our efforts to increase export to Korea, find potentials Korean investors and attract them to investment in Bangladesh,” he said adding that they are ready to share their success stories with Bangladeshi friends.
Korea wants stronger partnership with BD