Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday went all out in her bid to woo Singapore companies to her fast-growing country, offering as draws its booming economy, competitive workforce and liberal investment regime.
She even made a generous pledge of land, a move that drew applause from the more than 200 participants at the inaugural Bangladesh-Singapore Business Forum.
"We can give you 500 acres (202ha) land, or more than that, whatever you want... If you want, we can give you," she said.
Madam Hasina, who after her speech hosted a roundtable with Singapore companies to discuss potential partnership opportunities, later told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview that "some people have said... they cannot get the land, so I said, 'Let me ensure this, because we need more investment.' "
During the forum held at the Shangri-La Hotel, she noted that as Bangladesh presses on with the next stage of its development, it has opened up plenty of benefits for investors.
These include access to newly expanding industries, a large, young and easily trainable workforce with competitive wages, and an investment regime that includes the protection of foreign investment by law and generous tax holidays.
"From a humble subsistence and agriculture-based economy, Ban-gladesh is shifting towards a modern, resilient and diversified economy," said Madam Hasina.
Number of Special Economic Zones Bangladesh is establishing to spur investment. It is also developing several high-tech parks for IT industries with foreign investment.
Bangladesh, which has achieved strong average gross domestic product growth of 6.3 per cent a year over the past decade, hopes this year to shed its status as a least developed country, and by 2030 expects half its population to become urbanised consumers.
It is also establishing 100 Special Economic Zones to spur investment and developing several high-tech parks for IT industries with foreign investment, said Madam Hasina.
The Prime Minister has been in town since Sunday on an official visit that hopes to forge more opportunities for cooperation between Singapore and Bangladesh, accompanied by a 70-strong delegation of government officials and business representatives.
Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang said at the forum that Bangladesh and Singapore hope to update their 1979 double taxation agreement to support evolving business needs.
He also encouraged Bangladesh companies to use Singapore as a launchpad into the rest of South-east Asia.
Speakers, including Singapore Business Federation chairman Teo Siong Seng, noted that Singapore companies can reap benefits from Bangladesh's rapid indus-trialisation and growing market if they seize opportunities in booming sectors such as information technology, manufacturing and infrastructure.
Ms Kathy Lai, the acting chief executive officer of International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, said Singapore looks forward to partnering Bangladesh in its next phase of growth.
"Throughout Singapore's own early development journey, Singapore companies have developed the know-how and experience in sectors such as urban development, transport and logistics, and technology," she said.
"These would be of relevance to Bangladesh as it enters its next phase of development."
Five agreements to deepen business and technological cooperation were also signed at the forum.
A key pact formalises the partnership between IE Singapore and the Bangladesh Investment Development Agency (Bida), which have worked together since last year to boost business collaboration and make it easier for Singapore companies to enter Bangladesh.
Bida will also help these companies navigate the business landscape, including working with them on applications for licences and incentives.
Earlier in the day, Madam Hasina visited the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where an orchid hybrid was named Dendrobium sheikh hasina in her honour, as is custom for visiting dignitaries.