Business Environment · Economy of Bangladesh · Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) · Investment · Policy

Creating Investment-friendly Business Environment

Creating Investment-friendly Business Environment

Md. Joynal Abdin

The Daily Sun on March 15, 2017

 

Bangladesh is a land of unutilised opportunities and untapped potentials. Traditionally Bangladesh was an agriculture driven economy but during last few decade it is shifting its agriculture dependency into industrial economy. At the same time a steadily growing service sector is backing the industrial development of the country. According to a recent report contribution of agriculture, industry and service sector to Bangladesh economy was 51.03%, 7.69 % and 41.28% respectively in the year 1971.  Contribution of agriculture decreases into 31.55% and industry increases into 20.63% in the year 1980. Service sector contributed 47.82% to Bangladesh economy in the same year. Since then contribution of industry and service sector to Bangladesh economy is increasing and agriculture is decreasing day by day. It does not mean that the agriculture sector is losing its importance but it indicates industry and service sector is becoming stronger but agriculture is contributing as before. Agro processing industry is fully dependent upon agriculture sector; therefore no way to underscore agriculture sector too. Currently (2015) contribution of the same sectors to the Bangladesh GDP is 15.50% (Agriculture), 28.14% (Industry) and 56.34% (Service). From the above discussion it is quite clear that the economy of Bangladesh is going through a transformation from agriculture dependent economy into industrialized economy.

Agriculture has a highest limit of production per acres of land. But industry and service sector have the liberty to produce unlimited number of units or value by using the same piece of land. Therefor government of Bangladesh took parallel initiatives for agriculture and industrial development.

Foreign Recognitions of Bangladesh:

Prospect of Bangladesh economy is not recognised by the Bangladeshis only. Today it is widely recognised by the global think-tank and investment Banks like Goldman Sachs. The Goldman Sachs Investment Bank described Bangladesh as one of the Next – 11 countries (N-11) due to its prompt growth potentials (Lawson, Heacock, and Stupnytska, 2007). Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey, South Korea and Vietnam – identified by Goldman Sachs investment bank and economist Jim O’Neill in a research paper as having a high potential of becoming, along with the BRICS countries, among the world’s largest economies in the 21st century.

Regulatory Environment for Investment in Bangladesh:

Indian subcontinent inherited the British legal system since the colonial period. As a result Bangladesh has a very structured legal system since its inception. It has about 45 laws relevant to the investment, business, trade and commerce in various sectors. There are more than 10 policies with different incentives and supports of the government to promote private sector investment in various sectors.

The foreign private investment (promotion and protection) Act, 1980 has been passed that ensures legal protection to foreign investment against nationalization and expropriation. It also guarantees repatriation of capital and dividend; and equitable treatment with local investors with regard to indemnification, compensation, restitution, or other entitlement as is accorded to investment. The government has made bilateral agreements for avoidance of double taxation with 26 countries and negotiations are going on with 23 countries.

Investment treaty for promotion and protection of investment between Bangladesh and twenty countries have been concluded and negotiations are going on with 9 other countries. Besides these, Bangladesh is a signatory to MIGA (Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency), OPIC (Overseas Private Investment Corporation) of USA, ICSID (International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes) and a number of WIPOs (World Intellectual Property Organisation) a Permanent committee on development and cooperation related to industrial prosperity. Adequate provision is also made available for intellectual property rights, such as patents, design and trademarks and copy right.

The government has already enacted bankruptcy law. A law commission has been constituted with a view to identify the anomalies and weaknesses in the existing laws and legal system. One of the main tasks of this commission is updating the existing laws in relation to industries, trade and business.

All these are expected to improve general business environment along with the environment of FDI. Efforts are being made to reform the bureaucratic administration in order to make it efficient and supportive of better services for inflow of FDI and economic development oriented activities. Substantial modifications have been made to up-date the laws dealing with financial sector. The Companies act 1994 and labour Act 2006 have been enacted for facilitating inflow of FDIs in Bangladesh.

In order to improve the environment of private foreign investment and FDI, several EPZs have been established in Chittagong, Dhaka, Khulna under the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) in 1980. The private Export Processing Zones (PEPZs) Act has also been enacted to encourage the establishment of “Private Export Processing Zones” by the local and foreign investors. These EPZs are well enriched with the necessary infrastructural facilities and are completely protected from any law and order problems or union activities.

The BEPZA approves all projects to be located in the EPZS and offers “One window same day service” to the investors in the EPZs. The government has also approved the private power generation policy of 1996 and tax exemption on income of the company for 15 years from the date of commercial production is allowed.

The Government has undertaken several steps to make import liberalization and industrial deregulations more effective including announcing its strategy of reducing effective protection over the medium term, continuing its efforts to lower and simplify tariffs, publishing a clear tariff schedule, developing an action plan for legal reforms and a blue pint for deregulation, and putting an action plan for implementing its exports development strategy. These efforts have improved the investment environment in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is one of the promising economies with a large domestic market, availability of labour with competitive price, low utility charges, two seaports and a potential deep seaport facility, long-term tax holiday, 100% repatriation facility, and easy access to largest regional market like India and China.

Investment Friendly Facilities and Incentives: 

Tax  exemption  on  royalties,  technical  knowhow  and  technical  assistance  fees  and  facilities  for  their repatriation, tax exemption on interests on foreign loans, tax exemptions on capital gains from transfer of shares by the investing company, remittances  of  up  to  50%  of  salaries  of  the  foreigners  employed  in  Bangladesh  and  facilities  for repatriation of their savings and retirement benefits at the time of their return, no restrictions on issuance of work permits to project related foreign nationals and employees, facilities for repatriation of invested capital, profits and dividends, provision of transfer of shares held by foreign shareholders to local investors, reinvestment of remit table dividends would be treated as new investment, and foreign owned companies duly registered in Bangladesh will be on the same footing as locally owned ones etc. facilities are available for foreign investors.

Besides the above facilities Bangladesh is offering corporate tax holiday of 5 to 7 years for selected sectors, reduced tariff on import of raw materials capital machinery, bonded warehousing, accelerated depreciation on cost of machinery is admissible for new industrial undertaking (50% in the first year of commercial production, 30% in the second year, and 20% in the third year), tax exemption on capital gains from the transfer of shares of public limited companies listed with a stock exchange, reduced corporate tax for 5 to 7 years in lieu of tax holding and agricultural deprecation, Cash incentives and export subsidies ranging from 5% to 20% granted on the FOB value of the selected products, At best 90% loans against letters of credit (by banks), and permission  for  domestic  market  sales  of  up  to  20%  of  export-oriented  companies  outside  EPZ  (relevant duties apply) etc. fiscal benefits to the local or foreign entrepreneurs.

Additionally Bangladesh is offering 100% foreign equity allowed, unrestricted exit policy, remittance of royalty, technical know-how and technical assistance fees, full repatriation facilities of dividends and capital at exit, and an  investor  can  wind  up  investment  either  through  a  decision  of  the AGM  or  EGM, he  or  she  can repatriate the sales proceeds after securing proper authorisation from the Central Bank etc. benefits to a foreign investor.

Investment Friendly Factors of Production:

  • Largely a homogenous society with no major internal or external tension Bangladesh has a population with great resilience in the face of adversity.
  • The people of Bangladesh, a liberal democratic country irrespective of race and religion are living in harmony for years.
  • Bangladesh enjoys broad non-partisan political support for market-oriented reforms and offers the most investor-friendly regulatory regime in South Asia.
  • This country has a large trainable, enthusiastic, and hardworking low-cost labour force suitable for any labour-intensive industry.
  • A bridge between ASEAN and SAARC nations, the Geographical location of Bangladesh is ideal for global trades with very convenient access to international sea and air routes.
  • Bangladesh is endowed with abundant supply of natural gas, coal, water and very fertile soil.
  • Although Bangla is the official language. English is widely spoken as second language.
  • Increasing trend of per capita forecasting its purchasing power is increasing in the local market.
  • All Bangladesh products other than armaments enjoy complete duty and quota free access to EU, Japan, Canada, Australia, Norway and most of the developed countries. However, for apparel export to USA, Bangladesh has a quota regime which ended on 1st January 2005.
  • Export earning is continuously increasing.
  • Increasing trend of remittance earning.

Challenges and Recommendations:

With all of the above benefits Bangladesh have few limitations and challenges to attract further investments. Government could consider following recommendations to make the business environment sustainable and attractive to foreign investors:

  • Decreasing number of permissions / registrations / licenses requirements with a predetermined time frame / one stop investment services.
  • Ensuring hassle free and in-time delivery of industrial utilities like Electricity, Gas and water etc.
  • Making Bangladesh Investment Development Authority functional and effective with adequate resources.
  • Special investment attraction drive with specific project proposals to attract local and foreign investment.
  • Activating entrepreneurship promoters like better business forum or regulatory reform commission.
  • Developing infrastructure as per requirement of tomorrow’s business world.
  • Developing sector specific demand driven skilled manpower with specific technical knowledge.

Finally, we could conclude here with a statement that, Bangladesh has long lists of sectors and wide feature to promote local and foreign investment. But in absence of an effective and functional investment promotion agency (not regulator) Bangladesh is performing not as per the expectations. There are several entrepreneurship development, SME Development and Industrial Promotion agencies of / establish by the government. But due to lack of manpower, financial ability, technical and professional knowledge most of the organisations are less performing. Activating those organisations with right person at the right place could be one of the ways forward to strengthen investment attraction movement of Bangladesh.

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