TBY talks to HE Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, on the contributions her country and people are making to the development of the Omani economy.

HE Sheikh Hasina
HE Sheikh Hasina assumed the Office of the Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on January 12, 2014 for the third time. Earlier she served as Prime Minister from June 1996 to May 2001 and January 2009 to December 2013. Sheikh Hasina graduated from the University of Dhaka in 1973. She was conferred honorary doctorate degrees, inter alia, by the Boston University and Bridgeport University in the US; Waseda University in Japan; Australian National University; and the Catholic University of Brussels.

How would you assess bilateral relations between the two nations?

The Middle East prominently features in our foreign policy, as this region alone hosts around 5 million expatriate Bangladeshis. At present, the Sultanate of Oman is a major destination for a Bangladeshi skilled and semi-skilled workforce. They are contributing to the ongoing fast-track development activities in Oman. We deeply value our relations with the Sultanate, which are expanding with time. Our two countries have a commonality of views in promoting the cause of regional and international peace, security and development. The common focus of Bangladesh and Oman in regional and international issues is the fundamental basis for our mutually beneficial bilateral relations. In the pursuit of boosting our bilateral relations with the Sultanate, the past few years have been the most significant. We witness with great satisfaction the establishment of a fully-fledged embassy by the Sultanate in Dhaka. During bilateral talks in the recent past, we have identified agriculture, fisheries, trade, and investment as key areas of interest for mutual cooperation. I am further delighted to know that the Omani authorities have expressed interest to set up an Oman-Bangladesh Joint Development Fund, which I believe will be instrumental in promoting two-way investments in mutually beneficial ways.

Why is Bangladesh an attractive destination for Omani Investment?

In the past five years, we have consistently attained over 6% economic growth despite the global recession. Our target is to achieve 8% growth in the next few years. The socio-economic indicators have shown remarkable improvement. We have attained most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Our macro-economic management is sound. Foreign exchange reserves are now at an all-time high. Our exports are growing steadily. We are finding new markets for IT, pharmaceuticals, furniture, shipbuilding, and leather products. The current account balance is in our favor. We have ensured good governance and rule of law in the country. If this trend would continue, we are hopeful that we will become a middle income country by 2021. Bangladesh's favorable investment climate has been recognized by many around the world. We have been included in Goldman Sachs' Next-11 and JP Morgan's Frontier-Five list. Standard and Poor's (S&P) and Moody's have also placed us ahead of most countries in South Asia. Bangladesh offers a competitive location for doing business in terms of costs, inputs, human resources, market access, and a business friendly environment.

What areas of bilateral trade have the most potential for growth?

In the last fiscal year, Bangladesh's export revenue crossed $30 billion. Key sectors that contributed to the export growth include textiles, readymade garments (RMG), jute and leather products, frozen food, shipbuilding, ceramics, agro-based products, plastics, and furniture. As Oman prepares itself as a re-export hub having a free trade agreement (FTA) with countries like the US, Omani entrepreneurs can effectively utilize Bangladesh's export-oriented production capacities by re-exporting all categories of products to destination countries worldwide.

What is your outlook for Oman's economic future and for relations between the two nations?

In recent years, Oman's economy has been undergoing a steady transformation, reorienting from oil toward a more diverse set of service and industry-based economic activities. The Sultanate has maintained steady growth, insulating the country from economic tumult elsewhere through prudent economic and fiscal policies. We are happy to see that in the short and medium terms, Oman is making full efforts to reinvest its oil and gas windfalls to raise the quality of infrastructure, broaden social services, and encourage economic diversification through the development of SMEs and other important sectors like tourism, oil and gas, mineral resources, agriculture, and livestock. As always, Bangladesh is a reliable source for the professionals, skilled, and semi-skilled human resources required for those sectors including sharing our best practices for the development of SMEs. My government will remain ready to support any effort needed for Oman, taking all actions necessary to ensure the sustainability of economic gains into the long term.