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Speech by Minister S Iswaran at the Spotlight Bangladesh Webinar organised by SBF

Speech by Minister S Iswaran at the Spotlight Bangladesh Webinar organised by SBF

Your Excellency Tipu Munshi,

Minister of Commerce of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh;

 

Your Excellency Salman Rahman,

Private Sector Industry and Investment Adviser to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh;

 

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Good afternoon.

 

1. Thank you for inviting me to join you at the Spotlight Bangladesh webinar, which aims to highlight opportunities for deeper economic collaboration between Bangladesh and Singapore.

 

2. Firstly, I wish to congratulate Bangladesh on its commemoration of 50 years of Independence this year.

 

a. The remarkable economic and social progress that Bangladesh has achieved over these five decades is testament to the talent and the tenacity of its people.

 

3. I am also very happy to note that next year, Singapore and Bangladesh will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.  This firm and lasting friendship at all levels, as Minister Munshi has highlighted, from the leadership level, to the people-to-people and the business-to-business levels, has allowed us to weather challenges together during trying times, and to come out stronger than before.

 

a. During this COVID-19 pandemic, we have been working closely together to keep freight, and essential goods like food and medical products, moving between Bangladesh and Singapore.

 

4. The economic relationship between our countries is a key component of our bilateral ties. Singapore is already one of the largest investors in Bangladesh.

 

a. As of 2019, our stock of Direct Investment Abroad in Bangladesh amounted to S$1.9 billion, in sectors such as energy and the manufacturing of consumer goods.

 

b. As an example, Wilmar International is developing 100 acres of land in the Mirsarai Economic Zone through its joint venture with India’s Adani Group, to carry out agro-processing activities. This investment will create thousands of jobs in Bangladesh.

 

5. Our bilateral trade also grew in tandem, increasing by more than 60% from 2012 to 2019, to reach a total of S$4.5 billion.

 

a. With your young and growing population of 165 million people, and a rapidly expanding middle class, Singapore companies can certainly work with you on opportunities in the food and retail space.

 

b. One example is SMJ Furnishings, a top supplier of premium flooring solutions in Singapore. It entered the Bangladesh market in 2019 with a 40,000-square foot carpet installation project for a bank.

 

c. Likewise, Bangladesh companies should continue tapping on Singapore’s strong links to the burgeoning region of Southeast Asia to expand their commercial activities.

 

6. Events like Spotlight Bangladesh will further support the growing business interest.

 

a. My colleagues in Enterprise Singapore and the Singapore Business Federation tell me that Singapore companies have been enquiring about commercial opportunities in Bangladesh despite, and even during, the pandemic.

 

b. I am also pleased to learn that a third of the attendees at this webinar today are new to Bangladesh, and I hope they will discover new opportunities from today’s event.

 

7. I thank the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) for their steadfast support of Singapore companies seeking to enter the Bangladesh market.

 

a. Enterprise Singapore and BIDA also continue to deepen their partnership, with a focus on more specific areas such as food & retail, agricultural exports and technology.

 

b. I hope that these efforts will encourage even more Singapore companies to participate in Bangladesh’s economic growth.

 

8. Looking ahead, I would like to propose two key areas for Bangladesh and Singapore to collaborate in specifically: Connectivity and Infrastructure.

 

9. Firstly, connectivity. The pandemic has highlighted the need for countries to strengthen their connectivity, physically and digitally, to the rest of the world.

 

a. Having this global connectivity allows countries, big or small, to build on each other’s competitive advantages and benefit from the larger global economy.

 

b. Diverse global connections also make economies more resilient.

 

10. For Singapore, strengthening our connectivity to the world has been integral to our economic strategy.

 

a. We have continuously improved our physical connectivity to the world by expanding our air links and modernising our port.

 

b. In more recent times, we strengthened our digital connectivity to the world – by building digital infrastructure for the exchange of trade documentation, and strongly supporting our companies to seize opportunities in the digital economy.

 

11. I know that Bangladesh shares our ambition for greater physical connectivity.

 

a. Bangladesh is undertaking a massive effort to expand its ports, which will ease congestion and bolster Bangladesh’s trade flows with the world.

 

b. We in Singapore are prepared to cooperate with Bangladesh in this area.  We can share our experience and knowledge in using technology to enhance the efficiency of our port, and its integration with global supply chains.

 

c. By strengthening connectivity with Singapore’s port, Bangladesh can tap on our strong linkages across Southeast Asia, and enjoy even greater access to one of the fastest growing regions of the world.

 

d. It would also allow Singapore food manufacturing companies and wholesale traders, including some participating in today’s webinar, to more easily access Bangladesh consumers.

 

12. Bangladesh has also embarked on a “Digital Bangladesh” initiative, vastly improving internet connectivity across the country and introducing e-governance initiatives to improve citizens’ access to government schemes.

 

a. Like you, we too have launched a “Smart Nation” initiative. By harnessing technology, we aim to enhance the quality of life for our people, and help our businesses seize opportunities in the digital economy.

 

b. Singapore and Bangladesh can learn from each other’s experiences in growing our digital economies, and improving the provision of digital services to our citizens.

 

c. Singapore companies are well-suited to contribute to the next phase of Digital Bangladesh.

 

d. Bilaterally, Singapore and Bangladesh can also explore implementing digital frameworks that help with facilitating trade or investment between our countries. You may also be aware that we are already embarking on Digital Economy Agreements with several partner countries in order to create the regulatory infrastructure that will complement physical digital connectivity.

 

13. Next, infrastructure.  It is crucial for every country to continuously improve its infrastructure to enable its economic and social development. Ultimately, good infrastructure promotes inclusive growth.

 

a. Hence, Bangladesh’s impressive economic growth over the past decade has been accompanied by massive infrastructure development, particularly in the energy and transport sectors.

 

b. I am happy to note that Singapore’s infrastructure companies, such as Sembcorp and Surbana Jurong, were able to play a part in this.

 

c. I believe there will be further collaboration opportunities for infrastructure development in the road and metro sectors, which will certainly improve the quality of life for all segments of society.

 

14. As Bangladesh continues its upward economic trajectory, it will also require significant funding for new infrastructure.

 

a. Like the rest of the world, Bangladesh would need to balance this with sustainability constraints.

 

15. Singapore would be keen to work with Bangladesh to explore modalities for such infrastructure financing.

 

a. We have a well-developed infrastructure financing ecosystem, with a deep pool of investors, financiers, and legal service providers.  Singapore is also ASEAN’s largest market for green bonds and loans, accounting for about half the market.

 

b. We can work with you to catalyse your next stage of infrastructure growth, and pave the way for cooperation in even more projects in the realm of infrastructure growth, which pays heed to long-term sustainability needs.

 

16. Singapore and Bangladesh have many complementary strengths and interests that allow us to work well together.

 

a. I am glad that we continue to engage each other virtually, notwithstanding the pandemic, for example through this event. This underscores the importance of digital connectivity!

 

17. We look forward to celebrating our 50th anniversary of bilateral relations next year, and reaffirming the longstanding friendship between our countries.

 

18. I hope that all of you will find today’s event fruitful, and discover new opportunities for your businesses.

 

Thank you. 

 

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