Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday sought investment from Commonwealth countries along with others in Bangladesh to draw a market of 3 billion people of the region as she opened two-day Commonwealth Trade and Investment Forum-2023 in Dhaka.
"Geographically, Bangladesh is at the center of a market of 3 billion people, and we have 170 million people of our own. . . ," she told the Forum's grand inauguration in Bangabandhu International Conference Center (BICC) as chief guest.
Mentioning that by 2030, the affluent population of Bangladesh will stand at 35 million, she said that therefore, Bangladesh will become the third largest market globally, leaving behind Germany and the United Kingdom.
"We're looking forward to building long-term, meaningful relations with countries and investors who are willing to contribute to the development of Bangladesh and other Commonwealth countries through this forum," she said, adding, "I earnestly believe that you will be with us."
Bangladesh needs development partners to help reach its goal, noted the premier, saying "we need more high-quality and sustainable investment to accelerate the economic progress of Bangladesh."
She said as a prerequisite for "Biniyog Bikash", or investment promotion, her government prioritized organizational reforms, the formation of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) and the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA), which are offering attractive facilities for investors, and ensuring post-investment services.
Sheikh Hasina said that almost all sectors are open for investment in Bangladesh.
But among those, she said, more investment is encouraged in agricultural goods and food processing, leather and leather goods processing, medical equipment, automobiles and shipbuilding, and ICT.
"There are promising investment facilities in these sectors, including the easy process of taking back dividends or benefits to your home country," she added.
The prime minister said she always put special emphasis on economic progress through inclusive trade and investment.
"Bangladesh is leading the Commonwealth Business to Business (B2B) Connectivity Cluster as a 'Lead Country' and has been working with the Commonwealth and its associate countries to reach the Intra-Commonwealth trade target of USD 2 trillion as well," she said.
Sheikh Hasina said she believes a "Legal Reform and Digitization Working Group" can be formed for Commonwealth members to encourage trade and business within.
"However, we must not forget to ensure a balance between trade and its effect on the climate to make sustainable climate financing certain," she added.
She said some 70 per cent of Bangladesh's foreign direct investment comes from reinvestment, which is a proof of the excellent investment environment that Bangladesh offers to investors.
She also said BIDA has started a one-stop fast-track delivery service to facilitate investors with the services of various departments of the government and through this one-stop service, 78 services from 26 departments can be received through one platform.
Mentioning that the pre-requisite for investment is the development of infrastructure, the prime minister said the government has established 100 economic zones, 109 hi-tech and software technology parks, and IT training and incubation centres across the country with attractive incentive packages to promote foreign investors.
"We're developing our land, rail, and air connectivity. Almost all highways in the country have been elevated to four or more lanes," she said.
In this connection, she referred to the Padma Bridge, which has connected 21 south-western districts of Bangladesh directly to Dhaka and other parts of the country.
"There will be rail connectivity through the Padma Bridge between Dhaka and Khulna soon," she continued.
The head of government said that soon the government will inaugurate the first underwater tunnel not only in Bangladesh but in South Asia in Chattogram under the Karnaphuli River.
"Work on establishing rail link between Chattogram and tourism town Cox's Bazar is progressing fast," she added.
To ensure adequate energy supply, she said the government has set up a "Floating LNG" terminal, which supplies LNG through a pipeline as well as the Matarbari Deep Sea port is being developed to strengthen its overall logistics capability.
Sheikh Hasina said they are building the Payra Sea Port and Chattogram Bay Terminal to increase imports and exports.
The establishment of the state-of-the-art Third Terminal of the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka and the upgrade of Cox's Bazar Airport to an international airport are going to be game changers in boosting business, she added.
The premier said that after winning the election in 2008 and forming the government in 2009, the government has started building the country based on short-, middle-, and long-term programs.
"A democratic environment, political stability, continuity of government, and, above all, structured development programs have helped in the quick socio-economic development of Bangladesh," she noted.
The prime minister said following the materialization of the goal of building a "digital Bangladesh" the government is working to build a "Smart Bangladesh", which will be realized by building the pillars of smart government, smart citizens, a smart economy, and a smart society.
She continued: "Our goal now is to become a knowledge-based and Developed Smart Country by 2041 and a Prosperous Delta by 2100. We are working relentlessly towards that goal through the Perspective Plan, the Five-Year Plan, and the Delta Plan 2100."
Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) in partnership with the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA), Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ZI Foundation organized this event.
In the opening ceremony, CWEIC chairman Lord Marland delivered the welcome address.
Prime minister's private industry and investment advisor Salman F Rahman, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen, BIDA executive chairman Lokman Hossain Miah and strategic advisor of the Commonwealth countries and beyond Zillur Hussain, among others, also spoke.
At the event, the second "Commonwealth-Bangladesh Bangabandhu Green Investment Award", which was introduced in 2022, was conferred with a view to promoting sustainable and environment friendly investment.
Eco Brixs of Uganda won the award as its chief technology officer received the award from the prime minister.
Sheikh Hasina hoped that this award will play a pivotal role in ensuring eco-friendly investments in Commonwealth countries.
At the outset, an audio-visual documentary on commonwealth business and opportunity in Bangladesh was screened.
In the two-day forum, business people and experts from different countries are taking part in over 12 sessions.
Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 56 countries united by common values and is a home to one-third of the world's population. Bangladesh joined the Commonwealth as its 34th member in 1972.