With Japanese investors and businessmen accompanying Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold talks with Bangladesh government officials and Bangladeshi business leaders here in Dhaka, same unwanted barriers that prevailed more than a decade ago remain on top of their agenda.
We found the same problems the Japanese businessmen are now talking about had talked about 15 years ago.
Undoubtedly, other foreign investors face the same hassles and the Japanese also had the same observations from much before.
I have been listening to the allegations since 1999 from when I covered for next few years a number of events involving the Japanese investors and prospective Japanese investors in Bangladesh.
As a reporter, I covered a number of business and investment conferences in Tokyo from 1999 to 2006 and in official and unofficial discussions the Japanese businessmen came up with same observations that they are telling us now while mentioning the barriers in doing businesses in Bangladesh in a hassle-free environment.
Abdul Mazid, the then economic or commercial counselor or both in Bangladesh mission in Tokyo, had elaborate report in his laptop on Japanese investors’ complaints and desires for their investment in Bangladesh. Perhaps, Mr. Mazid, the first Bangladeshi government official I saw carrying a laptop, has still the research works with him and he can say in more details on the matter.
The first and foremost impediment towards Japanese investment in Bangladesh in those years was identified as absence of a one-stop service cell for starting a new business office and continue business without any hassle.
We heard that our Board of Investment (BOI) has launched a one-stop center, but its functionaries should be questioned when there is still a cry by foreign investors for such a service.
That is the reason the Japanese investment in Bangladesh is still low despite the huge prospects and Japanese desire to be positive partner of Bangladesh’s economic development through more investment and bilateral trade.
Official data show that direct investment from Japan in Bangladesh in 2013 was only $100 million. It is however three times higher than the previous year that saw around $30 million in Japanese investment.
The aggregated Japanese investment in Bangladesh is believed to be US$ 1.0 billion.
It could have been many folds had there been Bangladesh equipped with a total hassle-free business environment.
For many years the Japanese desire is bringing all the agencies dealing with foreign investors under one umbrella of the BoI. They want that the BoI is empowered with the authority to grant the major permissions, including trading, import, bond and factory licences, environmental clearance, TIN and VAT registrations, certificates for fire safety and tax exemption as well as other required matters relating to foreign direct investment.
Reports ahead of Abe’s Dhaka visit said that the Japanese investors held foreign garment manufacturers' current incapacity to obtain the utilization of declaration (UD) certificate as a major hurdle to investing in textile and garments industry.
The certificate is currently issued only by Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA). They have also been campaigning for Japanese investment in the garments sector, but we do not know what action they took to assure the Japanese investors.
Other desires for Japanese investment include addressing the difficulties expatriate staffs face in obtaining work permit in eight sectors, including logistics and service fields; as well as removing problems related to banking, customs and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
All the wants of the Japanese investors are, in fact, desire of all the investors no matter who are the, local or foreign.
But, like all others, the Japanese investors also want assurance of a stable political situation without hampering the productivity.
That is the reason that Japan government wants to see reflection of peoples’ desires in democratic institutions.
Whatever the commitment of the Japanese government towards Bangladesh is, it will never be at the cost of their private sector’s investment in and business with Bangladesh.
Zahid Newaz Khan: News Editor, Channel i
BDST: 1340 HRS, SEP 06, 2014