By Publisher Lee Kyung-sik with Feature Editor Soh Sung-soo
The following article is based on an interview with newly accredited Ambassador M. Delwar Hossain of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to the Republic of Korea for publication by The Korea Post media, publisher of 3 English and 2 Korean news publications since 1985.—Ed.
The year of 2021 is a special moment for Bangladesh. This year, the nation is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the independence and also in the midst of celebration of the birth centenary of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The year also marks the official endorsement of the graduation of Bangladesh from the status of a Least Development Country to a developing one, as the country fulfilled all three eligibility criteria of the United Nations by substantial margins for the second time.
The founding father Bangabandhu dreamt of ‘Sonar Bangla’ (Golden Bengal)-a prosperous, happy, and exploitation-free Bangladesh. Daughter of Bangabandhu Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been successfully steering the country with clear vision and plans towards this cherished goal for last 13 consecutive years. Robust economic growth and commendable progress in various sectors have entailed remarkable improvement in people’s overall living standard. The present government has undertaken multifarious initiatives and numerous mega projects under the Vision-2021, Vission-2041, and Delta Plan 2100 with a view to transforming Bangladesh into a developed and prosperous country by 2041.
While celebrating the past achievements, the nation is fully aware of the gigantic tasks and challenges ahead. At this crucial juncture, the country seeks to foster deeper mutually beneficial cooperation with her international partners and friends, particularly the Republic of Korea.
The newly appointed Bangladesh Ambassador referred the Republic of Korea as a key development partner of his country. He rejoices over the progressive expansion and consolidation of bilateral cooperation in diverse fields between the two countries in last five decades and accentuates on the need for fully tapping the huge potentials for further cooperation. The Ambassador affirmed, “Bangladesh is now well poised to engage in deeper mutually beneficial collaboration with the Republic of Korea to make our relationship more meaningful to both our peoples. With an accelerated economic growth and progress in other key sectors in the recent years, Bangladesh has a lot of opportunities on offer to her international partners and friends like Korea”.
Bangladesh and the Republic of Korea established diplomatic relations on 18 December 1973. Since then, the relationship between the two countries progressively strengthened based on shared values, mutual respect, and common aspiration. On the international plane, both countries are working closely to uphold global peace and security, promote free trade and fight the adverse effects of climate change. In addition, they are supporting each other on the issues of mutual interests in international fora.
The bilateral cooperation between the two countries currently covers a wide range of areas including trade and commerce, investment, manpower, development assistance, education and human resource development, ICT, cultural exchanges and other areas. Over 50 bilateral instruments are so far concluded in diverse fields to deepen bilateral collaboration. Initiatives have been taken to revise some of the earlier instruments and also to conclude a few new instruments with a view to tapping the potentials of bilateral cooperation.
The Bangladesh-Korea relationship is marked with regular exchange of high-level visits. Shortly after taking office, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina paid an official visit to Korea in 2010. The latest high-level visit from the Korea side was the official visit of the former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon to Bangladesh in 2019. All these visits entailed fresh impetus in the bilateral relationship and laid a solid foundation for mutually beneficial collaboration.
The Republic of Korea is one of the major trading partners of Bangladesh. The volume of the bilateral trade experienced steady growth in the recent years and reached at US$ 1.6 billion in 2020 with a typical trade balance heavily tilted in favour of Korea. Ambassador Hossain expressed his country’s keenness to engage in a comprehensive partnership with the Republic of Korea with a view to taking advantage of the complementarities of two economies and thus facilitate a healthy and sustained growth in bilateral trade. He opined that enhanced Korean investments in Bangladesh with buy-back arrangement, particularly in backward and forward linkage industries, could be immensely beneficial for both the countries. Bangladesh, with a huge pool of competent and cheap workforce, is the best destination for labour-intensive industries.
At present, the Republic of Korea is the fifth largest investor in Bangladesh with an FDI stock of US$ 1.2 billion. Korea was the first country to set up an exclusive foreign Export Processing Zone (KEPZ) in Bangladesh especially in textile and clothing sector. However, currently, there is a growing interest among the Korean investors to invest in some other sectors such as-infrastructure, energy, ICT, electronics, automobiles and medical equipment sectors. During the visit of the former Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon in July 2019, he expressed his interest to make cluster investment in the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) of Bangladesh. More than 150 Korean companies have so far invested in Bangladesh. Most recently, the Korean tech giant Samsung and Hyundai have started establishing assembling plants in partnership with the local companies for some of its products in Bangladesh like mobile phones, home appliances, and automobiles.
The world-renowned Korean engineering and construction companies under the tutelage of the Korea Overseas Infrastructure and Urban Development (KIND), Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport of the Republic of Korea, are undertaking large-scale infrastructure projects such as subway, power plants, airport terminals, and hospitals.
Recently, the KEPZ has inaugurated construction of a 100-acre Hi-Tech park, the first private Hi-Tech Park in Bangladesh which is expected to be a ‘ICT Hub’ and to contribute to the development of the ICT sector in Bangladesh.
Moreover, startup cooperation programs between the two countries have recently been established to promote and encourage innovation and entrepreneurship among the youth of Bangladesh.
The Republic of Korea remains as one of the lucrative destinations for Bangladeshi work force. Currently around 7329 Bangladeshi contractual employees are engaged in the manufacturing sector in Korea under Employment Permit System (EPS) who have been making significant contribution to the economies of both the countries. Bangladeshi workers having completed their tenure in Korea can subsequently serve the Korean companies in Bangladesh and elsewhere using their high technical skill and acquittance with Korean work environment.
Bangladesh and the Republic of Korea are going to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2023. A series of celebration events and deeper cooperation initiatives are expected to take place on the occasion of this milestone event. As Ambassador Hossain indicates, “we seek to cease this momentous occasion to celebrate the achievements of our collaborative efforts in the past and also to jointly chart the future course of our bilateral partnership for the benefits of our two peoples”.
Robust economic growth and commendable advancement in key sectors for successive years entailed a paradigm shift in Bangladesh’s outlook and approach vis-à-vis the international friends. Once a pre-dominantly aid-recipient country now confidently seeks to engage in mutually beneficial partnership with its friends. Similarly, the country demonstrates its ability and willingness to play a more proactive role in key global issues including climate change, migration, peace keeping, gender parity, and sustainable development agenda.
Both for Bangladesh and the Republic of Korea, continued improvement of people’s living standard through sustainable economic growth remains utmost priority. The current development trajectories of the two countries offer huge prospects for further bilateral collaboration in varied fields on a win-win proposition.
Owing to visionary plans and policies and effective initiatives by the government, Bangladesh has been transformed into one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Now Bangladesh is the 41st largest economy in the world. According to the HSBC, Bangladesh is poised to become the 26th largest economy in 2030. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bangladesh achieved 8.l5% GDP growth rate, the highest among the Asia-Pacific countries. The sustained and progressive GDP growth is underpinned by expanding domestic market and a significant growth in per capita income. At present, about 35 million people represent middle or affluent class in Bangladesh constituting a solid consumer demand base. Private sector remains the main growth engine for Bangladesh. The domestic industries which are also witnessing significant transformation from a low-tech industry to high-tech industry to cater the growing domestic demand and high-end international market. Export earnings of Bangladesh tripled in 12 years and foreign currency reserve hit an all-time high of US$ 45.59 billion in June 2021.
Bangladesh has also made commendable success in integrating technology in almost all sectors in line with the Governments ‘Digital Bangladesh’ vision. Bangladesh government adopted Digital Bangladesh Vision over a decade back to ensure maximum degree of digitization in public service delivery across the country and also to ensure universal access to ICT. To materialize the objectives, the present government undertook a number of initiatives including establishment of 39 hi-tech & software parks, 64 training and IT incubation centres, and digital labs in educational institutions across the country. The IT and IT Enabled Services industry in Bangladesh has witnessed a significant growth in the last decade. Bangladesh sets a target of US$ 5 billion export of IT products by 2025. Also, Bangladesh enjoys a pool of about 600,000 IT freelancers, the second highest in the world after India.
During last 50 years, Bangladesh’s economy experienced a significant transformation from an agriculture-dependent economy to industry and service sector-led economy with significant progress in various sectors including-ready-made garments and textiles, leather, light engineering, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, electronics, home appliances, ship building, etc. Bangladesh now prioritizes industrialization, innovation and infrastructure development for further development of its economy going forward. Bangladesh is now considered to be a lucrative destination for foreign investments owing to its pro-investment policies, investment-friendly environment, huge domestic market, strategically important geopolitical location, political stability and competitive labour force. To accommodate and ensure inflow of foreign investments, the government is working on the establishment of 100 special economic zones and high-tech parks throughout the country and offering various incentives in this regard.
Bangladesh moved 8 notches up in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business rankings, a reflection of Government’s decisive actions to improve the investment climate in the country. In addition to policy and regulatory reforms, the government has undertaken numerous initiatives and mega projects in infrastructure and human resource development.
The mega projects like: the Padma Bridge, Metro Rail, Payra Deep Sea Port, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel, Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport's Third Terminal and Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant are expected to bring transformational impact on the economy and lives of the people by accelerating the economic growth and upgrading living standard. It is estimated that those mega projects will raise the country's GDP by 4 per cent upon successful completion as well as pave the way for upgradation of the existing physical infrastructure and creation of exemplary business environment for attracting foreign investments.
The Embassy is committed to make all possible endeavors for further strengthening of the bilateral partnership between the two countries.
Ambassador M. Delwar Hossain assumed the charge of the office of the Ambassador of Bangladesh to the Republic of Korea on Oct. 1, 2021. Prior to his present diplomatic assignment, he served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and 4 other diplomatic missions of Bangladesh in France, Libya, Bhutan, and China in different capacities. He obtained his MBA from IBA, Dhaka University and BSc in mechanical engineering from Khulna University of Engineering & Technology. He also earned a diploma in International Relations from the International Institute of Public Administration in Paris, France.