Development Nexus of Emerging Dhaka-Tokyo Relations

With Tokyo’s renewed pledge to provide Dhaka with six billion dollar in different projects during the outreach sessions of recent G7 Tokyo summit, Dhaka-Tokyo relations enters into an innovative era curving clear development nexus in their bilateral partnerships. The long-awaited but vehemently ignored development prospects of Bangladesh may be explored if the two countries gear up their vision towards this development discourse and if particularly Bangladesh may adopt viable development strategies in order to realise the long-term goals of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister’s recently-devised development model which we introduced through the leading newspapers and media.
As we know that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated a brilliant chapter in the country’s development history by shifting its aid-focused policy to investment-oriented strategy. I was inspired by her life-awakening call to domestic and global investors to “grab business opportunities in Bangladesh” through her seminal speech at the Bangladesh Investment and Policy Summit started early this year. The summit didn’t give me simply a picture of a business gathering, but provided prismatic colours that can orchestrate our long-awaited but grossly unattended vision towards national development. The summit theme as outlined by the Prime Minister provides the framework, policy and direction of a sustainable development strategy. Dhaka-Tokyo emerging relationships may be a milestone in this direction.
Let’s first understand the economic impacts through a brief look at economic theory. Most literatures on the development of least developed countries (LDCs) like Bangladesh argue that a country can’t elevate unless its industrialisation process takes root through flourishing spree of privatization which is considered as the gateway of the growth and development of the countries all around the globe. Privatization is, in reality, a component of World Bank prescribed structural programmes based on notions of economic liberalisation, free trade, competition and limited government intervention. Theoretically speaking, there are thus pro-privatisation and anti-privatisation arguments among many of us. Since the investment summit, the organisers as well as the participants have been formulating policy plan and operational strategy of implementing above economic theory. It gives a roadmap of how Bangladesh economy can achieve expected growth from investment-centered industrialisation policy.
The summit was organised jointly by Board of Investment (BoI), Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD), and Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The incorporation of all three super-sensitive business organs structures an all-inclusive investment and trade policy that might open up multifarious avenues of investment for business boom. The optimistic voice of our Prime Minister from the inaugural session can certainly attract the attention of the dynamic role of investors to be the part of “Bangladesh’s historic growth and development” and to understand “Bangladesh’s investment trend, policies and potential more concretely and systematically”. The participation of more than a hundred domestic and foreign investors as well as global financial organisations such as World Bank, IFC brings opportune moment for the investors to consider the summit as the most appropriate platform to invest in Bangladesh forecasting prospective foreign-domestic cooperation in trade and investment. We’ve seen how Denmark and Tokyo have so quickly responded to Bangladesh’s new development trends. Out of the $ 6 billion, Dhaka would get $ 1.5 billion this year. During the bilateral talks, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assured his Bangladeshi counterpart of investing in some mega projects such as conducting a feasibility study on the proposed modern airport at Charjanajat on the other side of the Padma Bridge. Japan also agreed to invest in building the third terminal at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, the Big-B project in Chittagong, the buy-back arrangements and broader socio-economic and infrastructural areas. Abe agreed to extend cooperation in response to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s urge for Japanese investment in much more important projects, such as knowledge-based industries, nano technology, blue economy, buy-back proposal, energy efficiency industries and so on. One of the most important achievements of the Abe-Hasina summit is the decision to provide the diplomatic passport holders with the on-arrival visa.
However, in order to execute the proposed projects detailed in the summit, Bangladesh Government must give attention to eradicate the barriers of investment. We know how Japan has continuously pressing for taking some measures that are preconditions for their investment. First, any investment if it wants to mean business can’t be effective in a bad infrastructural condition. Serious government attention needs to be laid on the development of roads, high-ways, transportation, business plants, gas and electricity generation, economic zones and so on. Sheikh Hasina’s policy of stimulating Public Private Partnership in infrastructure investment and broadening the existing Export Processing Zones and Special Economic Zones may be instrumental in this regard. The Prime Minister’s declaration to establish Bangladesh Development Authority for the simplification of investment procedure might be an important task ahead. The government plan to set up one hundred economic zones should immediately be implemented in order to create congenial atmosphere for investment. Attaching importance to quality infrastructure in Bangladesh, Shinzo Abe said that the Matarbari coal-based power plant and Dhaka Metro Rail would be very important projects. He also said that a dedicated railway bridge along-side the existing Bangabandhu Bridge, development of cross-border connectivity and a number of some other proposed projects would be included under the quality infrastructure development initiative.
The second important task ahead of Bangladesh to pick Japanese investment is to prevent the deteriorating law and order situation of our country which poses a severe challenge to the prospective investment-based industrialisation. Front pages of everyday’s newspapers are splashed with dreadful news of killings, hijacking, robbery, bombing and other terrorist, road accidents, traffic jams and traffic congestions due to shutdowns and political demonstrations. The investors-both foreign and domestic-are scared to invest in expensive and long-term projects due to the increasing insecurity and disorder. The public order management, police patrol and intelligence need to be brought under major overhaul. Despite a few governmental steps towards containing terrorism, there is enormous scope to broaden the anti-terror preventive measures. Social awareness through radio, electronic and print media can play a very effective role in combating these disorders.
The third precondition that Bangladesh has to set is to prevent politicisation and political muscle-flexing in achieving undue financial gains from the investors. The business stages from license-giving to plant-setting to business operations- all are, on many occasions, dependent someway or other on political boon. Moreover, the red-tapism and bureaucratic complexities should also be removed. Too many restrictions discourage the investors. Thanks to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her guarantee of security and profitability of investment in Bangladesh. But these utterances should not be kept borne with political rhetoric, rather be substantiated with action-oriented policies and effective implementation. We don’t want and expect Japan uttering “dame”, that is “we’re unhappy and so we don’t go”. My four years’ stay and living in Japan tells me how a Japanese is serious about dame.
The author is a Professor in the department of International Relations, University of Dhaka and currently Dean of the School of Business and Social Sciences, Sylhet International University.