Tuesday, September 27
Good afternoon and thank you to the leadership of the International Business Forum of Bangladesh for organizing this event and for having me here today.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak with you today. Your vision of creating a climate where decisions at all levels are more transparent in order to build a more prosperous economy is one that the United States shares.
We also strongly support IBFB’s goals of reducing corruption and bureaucracy, attracting foreign direct investment, and strengthening economic governance.
As the United States and Bangladesh celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations, we at the Embassy are focused on five key objectives:
- First, a peaceful and stable Bangladesh.
- Second, a Bangladesh that is committed to democracy, transparency, pluralism, tolerance, good governance, and respect for human rights.
- Third, a socially and environmentally resilient Bangladesh.
- Fourth, supporting Bangladesh’s efforts to host the Rohingya refugees and until a safe, voluntary, and dignified return to Burma is possible.
- Each of these first four goals underpin our fifth goal: supporting Bangladesh in its efforts to achieve sustainable and broadly shared prosperity, improve labor standards, expand and diversify Bangladesh’s economy, and open it to greater regional and global trade and connectivity.
Of all the areas of our bilateral cooperation, I am convinced that we can go furthest and fastest on economic issues.
The United States is already the largest foreign direct investor in Bangladesh. And we are Bangladesh’s largest export destination.
Many U.S. and international businesses want to expand in the region. And we want to help Bangladesh create a business climate that is as welcoming as possible to foreign investment.
As a testament to the importance we place on growing our trade and investment relationship, the U.S. Embassy will welcome our first ever full-time attaché from the U.S. Department of Commerce very soon.
This step—frankly long overdue—will provide a direct liaison between U.S. and Bangladeshi businesses.
The U.S.-Bangladesh Business Council also brought a high-level delegation here to Dhaka in May to explore business opportunities.
In addition, we welcomed the Prime Minister’s private sector and investment advisor Salman F. Rahman and his delegation to the United States in June for the High-Level Economic Forum.
And we are looking forward to a U.S.-Bangladesh Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum meeting later this year.
In short, together we have the foundation on which to expand our economic relationship.
But in order to take things to the next level, two things must happen.
- First, international companies and investors must become more aware of the opportunities Bangladesh presents.
- Second, Bangladesh must be ready to welcome American businesses.
I doubt this will come as a shock to any of you, but most heads of U.S. companies do not wake up in the morning thinking, “Hmmm – maybe I should do business in Bangladesh.”
They usually have their hands full just keeping up with the U.S. market.
And if they are operating globally, they are probably operating in well-understood markets.
They simply aren’t aware of Bangladesh.
But as the members of this group know, there are strong reasons to look at Bangladesh for market opportunities.
And Bangladesh is worthy of their attention.
First, even in these challenging times, Bangladesh has a great macroeconomic story to tell.
It has been among the fastest growing economies in the world over the past decade.
Its GDP grew even during COVID-19 lockdowns, and, according to the Asian Development Bank, the economy is estimated to grow by 6.6 percent over the next year.
The country’s financial leaders have managed so far managed its debt well and are taking important steps to deal with the inflationary pressures resulting from Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Yes, times are tough. And as the World Bank recently pointed out, Bangladesh needs additional reforms in order to maintain its economic expansion going forward. But so far, the macroeconomic situation seems manageable.
Second, Bangladesh has a huge and increasingly middle-class population.
From being one of the poorest nations on earth in 1971, it is now scheduled to graduate from the UN’s Least Developed Countries list in 2026.
And as the eighth most-populous country in the world with 165 million people, it has more than twice the population of the UK, and four times that of Canada.
This represents a large and growing market for international investors.
Third, an eager and willing workforce.
Bangladesh is poised to take advantage of its demographic dividend.
Its workforce is young and increasingly well-educated.
IBFB members know the streets of Dhaka are throbbing with economic activity.
This buzz extends into the factory floors and office corridors.
A company that is willing to invest in its workforce – to train them and reward them for their work – will have capable and enthusiastic workers beating a path to its door.
Fourth, Bangladesh is uncharted territory for many U.S. and international companies.
This goes back to a lack of awareness of what Bangladesh has to offer.
But it also means that companies that enter the market early will face significantly less competition than they would if they were entering a more mature investment destination.
Clearly Bangladesh has a lot to offer international businesses. And I am pleased that the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with U.S.-based Anchorless Bangladesh to tell Bangladesh’s story to international investors.
But the other question is: Is Bangladesh ready to welcome investors, facilitate their entry into the market, and make life as easy as possible for those who have already invested?
In other words, is Bangladesh a better place for American and other international business to devote their time and resources than other countries in the region or elsewhere around the globe?
As Bangladesh graduates to middle-income status, it will find it has many competitors also hungry for international business.
It’s one thing to build a special economic zone, but that alone is not enough to attract the best investors.
A smart company considering doing business overseas will certainly want to see certain things, including a developed transportation system, consistent access to power and water, and a well-trained workforce.
Bangladesh has made great strides in filling these needs.
- But a company also wants certainty.
- A company wants security. Political violence and electoral instability scare them.
- A company wants a policy framework that is understood, and laws that are consistently enforced.
- A company wants to know that if a dispute arises it has access to courts that can quickly and fairly settle it.
- A company does not want to be taxed more rigorously or investigated more thoroughly than its local competitors.
- And a company wants to know it can repatriate its profits easily and without delay.
How does Bangladesh compare with their competitors when these are the questions asked?
Can Bangladesh assure investors that the cancerous effects of corruption are less prevalent here than in other markets?
Can Bangladesh say it fully understands the impacts of proposed regulations on business and that it actively seeks stakeholder input before putting them in place?
For example, does the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission understand how its proposed rules governing data privacy and online content will force digital businesses to reconsider investing in Bangladesh?
Can Bangladesh say it has an adequate legal framework within which businesses can operate when it takes years to schedule a hearing?
These are the questions that American and international companies will ask themselves before deciding to do business in Bangladesh.
Luckily, Bangladesh has committed to addressing these issues.
As you know, the Honorable Prime Minister addressed the U.S.-Bangladesh Business Council in New York last week.
In her speech, she noted that Bangladesh is continually working to improve its physical, legal, and financial structures in order to improve the investment climate here. The entire business community – both in Bangladesh and internationally – welcomes this commitment.
And the United States stands ready to assist these efforts in whatever way we can.