Ambassador Bernicat’s Remarks on China, India & the U.S. in Bangladesh: Cultivating Competitive Cooperation
DHAKA, FEBRUARY 23, 2017
Mr. Rashed Chowdhury, Chairman, Board of Trustees, IUB,
Dr. M. Omar Rahman, Vice Chancellor, IUB,
Dr. Mahbub Alam, Dean School of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences,
Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain, Head, GSG, Independent University, Bangladesh,
Ambassador Sumith Nakandala, Secretary General, BIMSTEC,
Dr. Salehuddin Ahmed, Adjunct Professor, Independent University, Bangladesh,
Mr. Abdul Hai Sarker, Chairman, Education, Science, Technology, and Cultural Development Trustee (ESTCDT)
Fellow panelists, distinguished guests!
Assalamu alaiykum, Nomoshkar, and a very good morning to all of you. I am very happy to be here because academic engagements like today’s seminar are an important part of people-to-people ties. I welcome the open atmosphere for the exchange of ideas that often lead to better, more informed, and more effective public policies. I also welcome the start of IUB’s new Global Studies and Governance Program. The world is growing increasingly connected and complex, and it is more important now to understand and analyze the world. In my remarks today, I plan to touch on three topics regarding regional cooperation and then close with some concluding remarks.
First, I would like to dispel a myth. The United States is not in competition with either India or China here in Bangladesh. I believe that all India, China, and the United States share the goal of a prosperous, safe, and stable society for Bangladesh. We recognize that helping Bangladesh meet its own ambitious development goals will require the good ideas and resources of more than a single country. The United States welcomes development and economic assistance from other countries and international organizations. A key issue is ensuring fair and transparent rules, which is my next point.
While the United States welcomes collaboration with other countries, and American companies welcome open competition for opportunities to participate in projects around the globe, there does need to be a business environment with clear, transparent and enforceable rules and regulations. American companies need to have confidence that their bids will be considered fairly, that their intellectual property will be respected, and that their partners in the private sector and the government will fulfill their contracts.
American companies are very interested in trading with, and investing in, Bangladesh. When an American company enters a new market, it brings with it a broad range of skills, capital, and technology. In Bangladesh, I have watched how U.S. companies train their local workforce and prepare their employees to compete internationally. U.S. companies also implement international labor, environmental, and quality standards. As these standards spread across and become norms in the domestic industry, it enables Bangladeshi companies to compete in other international markets and also tends to attract greater foreign investment.
My last point is that South Asia is among the least economically integrated regions in the world. Bangladesh and its neighbors are missing out on significant opportunities because of insufficient regional connectivity. Bangladesh possesses all of the economic fundamentals necessary to attract foreign investment and to become a regional production hub: more than six percent annual growth sustained over the past two decades; a large, young, and reliable workforce; a huge domestic consumer market of over 165 million people; a vibrant, innovative private sector; and a strategic location between South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Bangladesh successes, however, would have been even greater had it been better integrated into the regional economy. A more interconnected transportation system would lower the cost of moving cargo and make Bangladesh an even more attractive garment manufacturing hub; and an interconnected energy grid could help lessen energy shortages that are currently limiting the growth of many industrial sectors in the country.
Over the past decade, the government has made significant progress on physical infrastructure projects. Significantly, the Government of Bangladesh has shown a strong commitment to developing Bangladesh’s infrastructure that will enhance greater regional connectivity. Three of the government’s “fast-track” infrastructure projects: a deep-sea port at Payra; a rail link connecting Chittagong Port to Myanmar; and a multipurpose road-rail bridge across the Padma River will significantly increase connectivity between India and Bangladesh.
There is still a great deal more that can be done to develop Bangladesh’s “soft infrastructure” – especially by improving the business climate. For example, according to a report from the Asian Development Bank Institute, the number of import and export related documents required for Nepal and Bhutan to trade with Bangladesh ranges from 22 to 36, and the number of required copies of those documents in Bangladesh is between 44 and 115. And most filings still require paper rather than electronic submission. However, I am optimistic that Bangladesh is working to address these soft infrastructure barriers. The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority, for example, aims to amend several laws to attract more local and foreign investment and to develop a one-stop service window for investors.
Bangladesh’s goal is to improve its prospects in the global production supply chains. For Bangladesh even to maintain its current position, however, the country must continue to reform and squeeze out more economic gains through greater efficiency. One of the Government of Bangladesh’s stated goals is for Bangladesh to become a middle-income country by 2021. Meeting this goal will be a double-edged sword. As a least-developed country, Bangladesh has a number of preferential trade benefits. Those benefits will be phased out as Bangladesh reaches middle-income status. Before 2021, improving Bangladesh’s energy, transportation and trade connections to its neighbors will help ensure the country’s economic growth streak can continue beyond 2021.
In conclusion, I want reemphasize two points: first, the United States welcomes international collaboration to help Bangladesh meet its development goals; second, better regional connectivity has the benefit of supporting Bangladesh’s domestic economic development and also increases the country’s attractiveness to American and international investors and traders. We look forward to continuing to work with Bangladesh and its neighbors to support our mutual goals.
*As Prepared for delivery