SINGAPORE - Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday (March 13) went all out in her bid to woo Singapore companies to her fast-growing country, offering up as draws its booming economy, competitive workforce and liberal investment regime.
She even made a generous pledge of land.
"From a humble, subsistence and agriculture-based economy, Bangladesh is shifting towards a modern, resilient and diversified economy," she told more than 200 participants at the inaugural Bangladesh-Singapore Business Forum held at the Shangri-la Hotel.
As the country presses on with the next stage of its development, it can offer investors access to newly-expanding industries and special economic zones, 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.
Bangladesh, which has achieved strong average gross domestic product growth of 6.3 per cent over the past decade, hopes to this year 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.
On Tuesday, she sweetened the deal by offering land to Singapore businessmen looking to venture into Bangladesh - which was met by applause from the audience.
"We can give you 500 acres (200ha) of land or more than that, whatever you want... If you want, we can give you," said Madam Hasina, who later hosted a roundtable with Singapore companies to discuss potential partnership opportunities.
She has been in town since Sunday on an official visit that hopes to forge more opportunities for cooperation between Singapore and Bangladesh.
Madam Hasina is accompanied by a 70-strong delegation of government officials and representatives from leading Bangladesh companies such as Exim Bank.
Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang at the forum said that Bangladesh and Singapore hope to update the terms of their 1979 double taxation agreement to reflect how business needs have evolved.
He also encouraged Bangladesh companies to use Singapore as a launchpad into the rest of South-east Asia.
Speakers noted that Singapore companies stand to reap benefits from Bangladesh's rapid industrialisation and growing market if they seize on opportunities in booming sectors such as information technology, manufacturing and infrastructure.
Ms Kathy Lai, the acting chief executive officer of 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."
Four agreements to deepen business and technological cooperation were also signed at the forum.
A key agreement 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 companies to navigate the business landscape, including working with them on applications for licences and incentives.
"Singapore and Bangladesh can work hand in hand to ensure issues that companies face can be quickly resolved so as to encourage even more Singapore investment in Bangladesh," said Ms Lai.
Earlier in the day, PM Hasina visited the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where an orchid hybrid was named in her honour, as is customary for visiting dignitaries.
The Dendrobium Sheikh Hasina produces flowers with “gracefully twisted” mahogany petals and a dark maroon lip, said the National Parks Board in a statement.