Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Let’s do business: Bhutan PM Tshering to Bangladesh

  • Senior Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2019-04-12 20:32:15 BdST

The new Bhutanese prime minister, who is opening up the private sector, has asked Bangladesh to do business to take the relations to a new high.

Lotay Tshering, who holds a special place for Bangladesh as an alumnus of Mymensingh Medical College, said everybody knows “we are landlocked but let me tell you my friend we are not mind blocked. We are open to business”.

“If Bangladeshis feel Bhutanese are very close to their heart, I think you must take a step ahead." Tshering was speaking to business leaders in Dhaka on Friday on his arrival on a four-day official visit, his first since he took office on Nov 7 last year.

This is also the first visit by any head of state or government to Bangladesh after the current Awami League government came to power for the third consecutive term through December 30 elections.

Bhutan was the first country to recognise Bangladesh in 1971 during the war of independence that makes the relations very close.

But the prime minister, who is also a surgeon by training, said “that’s not enough”.

“Why our trade balance is so wide? I just heard that your export is exceeding $30 billion. But you export only $3 million to Bhutan. If we are very close, I think we must do business. I personally think it’s not enough,” Tshering said, adding that they are open to doing business.

The Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) organised the Bhutanese business dialogue where Prime Minister Tshering was the key speaker.

FBCCI President Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, in his address, also acknowledged that in spite of huge potential the bilateral trade could not reach the desired level.

He emphasised textile, ICT, construction, and some other sectors to work with Bhutan.

Vice President Md Muntakim Ashraf made a PowerPoint presentation highlighting Bangladesh’s economic advancements, investment conditions, and the ways to develop trade with Bhutan.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s private industry and investment adviser Salman F Rahman, and President of the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) Phub Zam also spoke at the event, among others.

Photo: Prime Minister's Office, Bhutan via Facebook

Photo: Prime Minister's Office, Bhutan via Facebook

The two chambers have also signed a MoU for future cooperation.

The Bhutanese prime minister, however, said MoU is not enough “if there is no follow-up action, if there is no commitment”.

“From the Bhutan government side, we will ensure it is followed through. We will ensure we walk the talk,” he said.

He also changed the programme format and opened the floor to take questions after his speech so that nobody leaves the hall with doubts in their mind.

“Please help do business with us. We must open our mind first. You should make sure there is no doubt in mind,” he said.

“If we are open, I don’t think physical barriers matter. We can do business in many different ways."

Tshering added that people talk about PPP model which is public private partnership. “To me it means positive people-to-people contact."

“Let’s make that happen and then we can say we are friendly countries, friendly people.

“We are trying to create a conducive environment to do business with each other. If you all agree with that, if you like it I think we must (act),” he said.

Photo: Prime Minister's Office, Bhutan via Facebook

Photo: Prime Minister's Office, Bhutan via Facebook

He said since they formed government in Bhutan, they have been working “hard” and working “very straight to the point”.

His Foreign Minister, Tandi Dorji, is also a graduate from Mymensingh Medical College and they shared the room in the hall of residence.

“We are going to graduate (to a middle-income country) almost at the same time. As we graduate we cannot depend on aid. We must learn how to do business.

"We must convert aid to trade now. Our conventional donor partners will be withdrawing from the conventional way of helping us. Let’s have business together,” Tshering said to Bangladesh.

“The private sector of Bhutan is trying their best. The government is doing business with the private sector. We are reviewing our FDI policy. We are reviewing our SME policy because first our private sector must be comfortable in doing business with us.

“Through that our private sector must be comfortable with the partners in the region and then we can say we are good friends because though we are very small, landlocked, we are open.

“In many sectors we can work together. I think there are a lot of opportunities which were not explored,” he said, adding that this government is "very open" in taking the relation to new heights.

Photo: Prime Minister's Office, Bhutan via Facebook

Photo: Prime Minister's Office, Bhutan via Facebook

Bhutan has 30,000 MW capacity of hydropower. Currently it is producing 5,000 MW. Bangladesh is keen to invest in Bhutanese hydropower.

India heavily supported them in hydropower both with technology and funding.

Replying to a question on power transmission from Bhutan, the prime minister said there are “absolutely no legal restrictions”.

But Tshering said it has to be a trilateral arrangement, not bilateral. "Since electricity cannot fly, it has to come through India," he said.

One Bhutanese secretary who accompanied the prime minister explained that India has to come up with a guideline that allows transmission of power through India.

The prime minister also praised India for hugely investing in Bhutan in many areas.

On free trade, he said they can talk. “It's not a problem for us. We are happy to do that.”

Bhutan also does not have problems with tourism, Tshering said “but it has to have the least impact on environment as well as our culture”.

Bhutan is a carbon-negative country and its parliament blocked the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal or BBIN motor vehicle agreement on the grounds of (potential) environment pollution.

Photo: Prime Minister's Office, Bhutan via Facebook

Photo: Prime Minister's Office, Bhutan via Facebook

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, who called on the prime minister before the FBCCI talk said he has requested Tshering to lift the restrictions in a “controlled way”.

“I told them to do it in a regulated way by balancing the environment. They’re very positive about it,” Momen later told the reporters at the Hotel Intercontinental where the prime minister is staying.

Prime Minister Hasina received her Bhutanese counterpart at the airport on Friday morning.

Bangladesh is expecting to sign five MoUs after the official talks between the two premiers on Saturday in an effort to strengthen cooperation between the countries in the areas of health, agriculture, shipping, tourism, and public administration training.

On April 14, he will join the Pahela Baishakh celebrations at a cultural event at the BICC.

Later, he will visit his alma mater, Mymensingh Medical College, and meet students and faculty there.

With Bhutan being a member of BIMSTEC, the Tshering will also visit the BIMSTEC Secretariat in Dhaka. He will leave on April 15, ending the four-day visit.