Boosting ties to benefit business

Boosting ties to benefit business

New ambassador to Bangladesh pledges closer cooperation to aid post-Covid economic recovery, writes Pathik Hasan in Dhaka

Thai Ambassador to Bangladesh Makawadee Sumitmor, sixth from right, meets members of the Bangladesh Thai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BTCCI) at the Royal Thai Embassy, Dhaka.   United News of Bangladesh
Thai Ambassador to Bangladesh Makawadee Sumitmor, sixth from right, meets members of the Bangladesh Thai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BTCCI) at the Royal Thai Embassy, Dhaka.   United News of Bangladesh

The newly-appointed Thai Ambassador to Bangladesh, Makawadee Sumitmor, is calling for a free-trade agreement between Bangladesh and Thailand to create more business opportunities between both countries.

She made the suggestion during a courtesy visit to the board of the Bangladesh Thai Chamber of Commerce (BTCCI) in Dhaka, during which several proposals aimed at boosting trade and investment between Bangkok and Dhaka were floated.

BTCCI discussed a number of issues with the new Thai ambassador, including ways to improve the ease of doing business in Thailand, increasing cooperation in setting up a Thai Special Economic Zone in Bangladesh, and the waiving of import tariffs for more Bangladeshi products.

They also discussed the possibility of relocating some of Bangladesh's labour-intensive industries -- such as the manufacturing of electrical parts and food processing -- to Thailand.

The ambassador said she would look into the proposals floated by BTCCI members, to take relations between the two countries to another level.

Ms Makawadee also spoke to the BTCCI members about the benefits of a free-trade agreement, before briefing them on projects in Thailand that businesses in Bangladesh are keenly watching -- such as the development of ports on the Andaman coast, which promise to cut shipping times to Bangladesh, and the 50th anniversary of Thai-Bangladeshi relations next year, for which both countries are hoping to co-organise several events.

"Bangladesh and Thailand are tested friends with shared historical and cultural ties, so there are huge opportunities to do business together," she said.

Mohammad Shahjahan Khan, president of BTCCI, agreed with the ambassador, saying: "There are plenty of areas for cooperation to work jointly in important sectors like pharmaceuticals, jute and jute products, leather, tourism and hospitality, infrastructure and agro-processing.

"As we have a huge trade imbalance with Thailand, we should make a joint effort to minimise the trade gap."

The BTCCI president said Thailand is buying more and more goods from Bangladesh, so he urged officials to waive import tariffs.

"Bangladesh has huge potential for investment in different sectors. The three Thai big companies -- Ital-Thai, CP Bangladesh, and Siam City Cement -- are good examples of lucrative investment partners."

He also urged the ambassador to work on improving sea connectivity between Thailand and Bangladesh, especially since both countries' economies are struggling to recover from the Covid-19 induced slowdown.

Ms Makawadee said: "The investment of big Thai companies in Bangladesh shows Thailand's interest in Bangladesh as an investment destination."

She said as the new Thai ambassador, she will be happy to cooperate with the BTCCI in its activities.

"Both countries should try to work towards strategic partnerships,'' she told the group of Bangladeshi businessmen.

The vice president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce & Industries (FBCCI) and BTCCI former president, MA Momen, stressed the need for cooperation between business communities in both countries, and called on more studies for joint ventures.

Mr Momen said: "Thailand needs to import products from other countries and Bangladesh can be one of its sourcing countries.

"Bangladesh can provide a low-cost production base and is competitive market for Thai businesses, so Bangladesh should be considered as an investment destination."

Engineer Rashed Maksud Khan, founding president of BTCCI and former president of the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), who was also present for the courtesy call, emphasised the need to strengthen the relationship between Bangladesh and Thailand.

A few days after the courtesy call, Ms Makawadee met the board of Chittagong's Chamber of Commerce and Industries at Bangabandhu Conference Hall at Chittagong's World Trade Centre, where she sought support for the FTA proposed by the Thai government.

There, she said she was waiting for the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Thai authorities and the Chittagong Port Authority to establish direct shipping links by sea.

The ambassador also announced the Thai government has decided to reduce the quarantine period for Bangladeshi citizens wishing to travel to Thailand to seven days. The stay requirement, she said, will be further shortened as the pandemic situation improves.

She said she will organise a roadshow at the World Trade Centre next year as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of Thai-Bangladesh friendship.

Meanwhile, Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, Chittagong City Corporation mayor, sought Thailand's cooperation in three projects in Chittagong.

During a meeting with the ambassador on Sept 30, he asked for Thailand's help to construct Ocean Park, an amusement park and a Liberation War Memorial in Chittagong.

The mayor said, "Chittagong is a green land of natural beauty surrounded by sea, hills and rivers. Anyone who comes to Chittagong is fascinated by the sights [of Chittagong]. We continue to strive to capture this beauty of the city."

The City Corporation office said the Thai ambassador appreciated the natural beauty of Chittagong and remarked, "We want to extend our cooperation to make this city planned and environmentally friendly."

According to the Royal Thai Embassy in Bangladesh's Facebook page, Ms Makawadee presented her credentials to the president of Bangladesh, MD Abdul Hamid, back in August.

On the occasion, the Thai ambassador and the Bangladeshi president exchanged views on relations between Thailand and Bangladesh, focusing on development cooperation, trade and investment, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Both sides also touched on the possibility of exchanging more high-level visits and jointly organising activities to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Thailand-Bangladesh diplomatic ties next year.

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