Published at: The Daily Star, February 20, 2019
Government high-ups and business leaders yesterday urged the Austrians to come up with foreign direct investment in Bangladesh to benefit from the business opportunity offered by the country.
The potential sectors where investment could be made include readymade garment, leather and footwear, shipbuilding, agro-processing, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, automotive, electronics and technology-driven innovative businesses, they said.
The investment proposal came at a “Bangladesh-Austria Business Dialogue” jointly organised by the Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD) and the ADVANTAGE Austria at the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Dhaka.
In response, 11 visiting Austrian companies showed willingness to increase their trade volume with Bangladeshi businesses.
A business delegation, led by Karin Kneissl, Austrian federal minister for Europe, integration and foreign affairs, arrived on Sunday. It is scheduled to stay till Thursday to explore probable scopes for business.
According to data from the International Trade Centre, trade between the two countries reached nearly $870 million in 2017, in which Bangladesh’s export to Austria stood at around $787 million.
Bangladesh is very keen to get investment support from Austria for establishing hi-tech industries and skills development, said Md Mofizul Islam, secretary to the Ministry of Commerce.
Austrian businesses can focus on Bangladesh’s energy, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and education sectors to invest their capital, he said while presenting a keynote at the dialogue.
The government is now offering different facilities to investors, including tax holidays, tariff concessions, avoidance of double taxation, cash incentives, export development funds and skilled worker permits, Islam said.
Though the bilateral trade is growing, there is no significant investment by Austrian entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, said Osama Taseer, president of the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
He, however, expressed satisfaction at the indication of the current Austrian official trade mission that it would increase investment in Bangladesh.
Austria and Bangladesh can jointly expedite development in some areas involving the fourth industrial revolution-related technologies, robotics and artificial intelligence in transport, healthcare and smart cities, Taseer said.
Robert Luck, commercial counsellor at the Austrian embassy in New Delhi, said it was encouraging to see how the bilateral trade had been growing for the last couple of years.
“We are here to find out how to increase the bilateral trade further in a more balanced manner and kick off investment in Bangladesh. Our goal for this business mission is also to spread awareness about Bangladesh in Austria,” he said.
Last year, the Bangladesh-Austria Economic and Trade Forum was organised by the BUILD when an Austrian business delegation officially visited Bangladesh for the first time, said Md Mahbubul Alam, chairman of the BUILD.
“The first forum meeting resulted in a project for skill development, irrigation and e-library. We are delighted to let you know that some other similar initiatives are going to mature this time in the field of medical equipment, health and education,” he said. The country’s socioeconomic condition has remained very stable in the last 10 years which is highly favourable for business, said Kazi Aminul Islam, executive chairman of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority.
The global economy is now facing an ageing population but 50 percent of the country’s population is below the age of 25, something that will help Bangladesh keep its growth momentum, he said.
He urged the Austrian businesses to take advantage of this by investing in the country.
Asif Ibrahim, founder chairman of the BUILD, and Kamrul Islam, chief financial officer of GPH Ispat, spoke. Ferdaus Ara Begum, CEO of the initiative, was present.
The ADVANTAGE Austria, with its about 100 offices in more than 70 countries, provides a broad range of intelligence and business development services for both Austrian companies and their international business partners.