Nation revels in cricket feverNation revels in cricket fever

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 March, 2011, 12:00am

Many countries are passionate about sport, but there are few places where cricket is as much a symbol of achievement as in Bangladesh. The nation's co-hosting of this year's Cricket World Cup is viewed as one of the biggest events since independence 40 years ago.

Bangladesh thrilled the cricket world with a stunning opening ceremony featuring homegrown singers and dancers, plus artistes from fellow host nations India and Sri Lanka, who were joined by Grammy award-winning Canadian rock singer Bryan Adams.

Not only did the nation excel with a dazzling two-hour spectacle featuring an aerial cricket match, the national team also secured a memorable first time, two-wicket win over England.

'Cricket is very important to our nation and we are very pleased we have shown to the world how we can safely host a large event and make visitors to our country feel very welcome,' says Ashud Ahmed, Bangladesh Consul General in Hong Kong.

The consul general says there are plenty of other reasons Bangladesh can be proud of its achievements. Foremost is the creation of an attractive environment for foreign direct investments, promoting tourism and building bilateral trade arrangements.

'Bangladesh, China and Hong Kong, as part of China, enjoy a long and strong relationship,' Ahmed says. Mainland companies have expressed interest in developing a deep-water port near Chittagong, which could turn Bangladesh's coast into a global cargo hub, working as a hinterland for a stretch of a land including southern China.

Ahmed says daily flights between Hong Kong, operated by the country's national airline, and six flights per week, plus two cargo flights, operated by Dragonair are another indication of the strengthening relationship. There are also regular flights between Bangladesh and the mainland.

'Visits by trade delegations and regular flights are an indication of the close ties between the two destinations,' Ahmed says. 'As Bangladesh implements economic reforms, which will make our country even more attractive, I believe there is plenty of room to strengthen our relationship.'

Last year, Bangladesh exported products valued about US$1.4 billion to Hong Kong. These mainly included ready-made garments, leather and leather products, and frozen fish and seafood. Ahmed says the export potential of Bangladesh's pharmaceutical industries is promising.

Thanks to favourable government policies, financial assistance and the WTO's waiver of patent rights, Ahmed says the pharmaceutical sector has grown at an average rate of 15 per cent per year over the past five years. 'We are now trying to create a market in Hong Kong and add to our traditional exportable items,' the consul general says.

Bangladesh exported pharmaceuticals worth about US$50 million to more than 70 countries last year, Ahmed says, adding that employees earn competitive salaries, which contribute to social development. The price of medicine in Bangladesh has also fallen.

Hong Kong exports mainly textiles, finished garments and electronic products to Bangladesh. Hong Kong-controlled companies and mainland enterprises are among a growing number of businesses taking advantage of low labour costs and incentives to set up garment factories within Bangladesh. Ahmed says there are opportunities for investors to add value to the country's spinning, weaving and dyeing industries.

Companies that set up business in one of Bangladesh's eight Export Processing Zones are allowed 100 per cent foreign ownership, 10 years tax holiday, duty free import and export of raw materials and finished goods, and accelerated depreciation on machinery. In a survey of 700 economic zones across the world conducted by the British magazine Foreign Direct Investment, Chittagong Export Processing Zone was ranked as having the best economic potential globally and came third in the best cost-competitiveness category. The consul general says that with many government departments already digitised, the country is on track to become fully IT efficient by 2021.

In February, Citigroup portrayed Bangladesh as one of the Global Growth Generators countries with potential for profitable investment. For the past decade, Bangladesh has recorded an annual growth rate of about six per cent GDP.

'Since being elected in late 2008, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed and her government have implemented policy reforms designed to create a more open and competitive climate for foreign and local investment,' Ahmed says.

'Our country enjoys political stability ensuring a favourable climate for investment.' Tourism is another area where the consul general sees potential for growth and development through foreign investment.

Throughout the country, there are many fascinating sights and activities, from expansive pristine beaches and the Sundarbans delta, to the world's biggest mangrove forest and an estimated 400 Bengal tigers.

Ahmed advises tourists to visit the capital's Old City, which is bustling with river life and the bright pink palace of Ahsan Manzil. Bangladesh's top attraction, the Lalbagh Fort, is also in Dhaka.

Ahmed says an estimated 1,500 Bangladeshi nationals living in Hong Kong are mainly involved in the finance sector and the import-export business.

'Although we are a small community, we are very dynamic and regularly invite Bangladeshi entertainers and artists to visit Hong Kong to perform and expand cultural awareness.'

The consul general expects the Bangladesh business community to set up a chamber of commerce before the end of the year.