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BD won’t fall into Chinese Debt Trap: AK Abdul Momen




Bangladesh strongly ruled out the possibility of falling into any Chinese debt trap as the return on its investments is much higher than the cost of the funds, said Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen at Bangladesh Business Summit 2023.

Foreign Minister said there is a wrong perception among many people that Bangladesh would slip into a Chinese debt trap.

“No way… no way,” Momen said.

He made the comments in reply to questions from Richard Quest, CNN’s Business editor-at-large, at the Bangladesh Business Summit.

The 3-day summit, organized by the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), partaken at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in Dhaka to showcase the country’s progress and potential to both global and local investors.

The debt-trap question has surfaced as Bangladesh has borrowed heavily from many countries, including China in recent years to pull off its growth targets. The bankruptcy of Sri Lanka, whose largest lenders include China, in 2022 has cemented the worries.

But Foreign Minister said Bangladesh has received many loans from international agencies with Japan being the largest bilateral lender.

“We are taking loans from all sources on a very prudent basis and in a calculative way.”

Of the $72.3 billion foreign loan, the World Bank accounts for $18.2 billion, followed by the Asian Development Bank ($13.3 billion), Japan ($9.2 billion), Russia ($5.1 billion), China ($4.8 billion) and India ($1.02 billion).

Whatever investments have been made with the debts, the return on the investments is higher than the cost of the funds, Momen said.

Bangladesh has a low risk of external and overall debt distress despite higher external borrowing in recent terms, said the International Monetary Fund in February.

Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said it was true that the war has inflicted sufferings on the country.

“Yes, I can understand that people are suffering for the high price, but the government is trying to sort it out.”

However, Bangladesh is doing well despite some challenging situations, he said. “For instance, export incomes have increased amid the global economic turmoil.”

The commerce minister admitted that the worry remains due to the lingering war.

He is optimistic about continuing the development journey as the country is benefiting from demographic dividends and the business climate is conducive.

The commerce minister spoke about the government’s investments in the education sector.

“We have to go for various types of investments in the sector, particularly for work-related education such as vocational training and technical education. This will help our economy.”

Quest questioned whether the upcoming election would be free and fair.

Responding, the foreign minister said the government has organized thousands of elections over the last 14 years.

“All institutions have been developed for a free, fair, transparent and credible election.”

“We have put in place transparent ballot boxes and we have an independent election commission with full authority. Therefore, we believe the upcoming election would be free, fair and credible.”

The government established a level-playing field, he said, urging all parties to participate in the elections.

When Quest pointed to people’s perception of whether the government has turned into authoritarian and anti-democratic, the foreign minister said there are both right and wrong perceptions.

“Unfortunately, in our society, people falsify many things. But in the long run, people behave very smartly and when they vote, they vote for us. Every class of the population is very happy with the performance of the present government,” he claimed.

In a separate session, Prime Minister’s Private Industry and Investment Adviser Salman F Rahman, said “We want a real export-based Bangladesh from where software, as well as hardware, will be exported. Already a number of companies are producing hardware.”

In order to support the fast-growing economy, the government is building a deep-sea port in Matarbari. It will go into operation in 2026.

Everybody is surprised that Bangladesh has made tremendous progress despite not having a deep seaport, Rahman said. “We are increasing the capacity of Chattogram port, Mongla port and Payra port.”

“It will be a real game-changer for us when the deep seaport becomes operational.”

Speaking about the sources of finances, the adviser said Japan is bankrolling the Matarbari port project.

“We are talking to companies in Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE for the management of the port.”

The government is going to hand over the Chattogram port to private operators for its management.

“In fact, today we are going to sign an MoU with Saudi Arabia,” Rahman said.

He ruled out the chance of Bangladesh facing a Sri Lanka-like situation.

The Island nation plunged into a serious crisis last year after its foreign currency reserves dried up.

Owing to escalated commodity prices, Bangladesh’s reserves have slipped to a six-year low of $31.15 billion, meaning it has fallen by about 30 percent from the $44.14 billion recorded in March last year.

“We are not going to hand over the ownership of the ports. So, there is no worry that our economy will face a situation that the Sri Lankan economy had faced,” said Rahman.

The British journalist wondered how Bangladesh would transform itself into a digital nation when he had to spend two hours traveling a distance of two kilometers.

“We are in a growing stage. Our infrastructure development is taking place. The metro rail is already operational and the elevated expressway is going to be operational. If you come back after five years, you will just need 20 minutes instead of two hours,” Rahman answered.

During her presentation, Tini Sevak, vice president for audiences and data at CNN International, said a green supply chain would have a greater effect on companies in the coming days.

Bangladesh has already begun its journey to modernize its workplaces following a number of disasters a decade ago. Today, the country has the highest number of green garment factories in the world.

“Technology will be a key factor too for the future growth of companies,” Sevak said.

The summit also aims to draw foreign direct investment (FDI).

FDI to Bangladesh rose 13 per cent year-on-year to $2.89 billion last year. But the inflow has been far lower than the expected level given the country’s business volume and potential of the economy.

In recent times, globally FDI was impacted across many industries due to the supply chain disruptions stemming from the pandemic, the war and major layoffs by technology companies, Sevak added.

Rob Bradley, senior vice-president for ad sales and digital commercial strategy at Warner Bros. Discovery for Asia Pacific and Latin America, Md Jashim Uddin, president of the FBCCI, Xiangchen Zhang, deputy director-general of the World Trade Organisation, and Laurent Olmeta, CEO of CMA CGM Asia Pacific Limited, a logistics company, also spoke.

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At least 20 Umrah Pilgrims died in Saudi Arabia Bus Crash




At least 20 Umrah pilgrims were killed and 29 injured in a horrific bus crash southwest of Saudi Arabia, according to Gulf News reports.

The passenger bus crashed into a bridge on Monday, overturned, and caught fire, killing 20 and injuring 29.

According to Saudi media, the accident occurred around 4pm on the 14 km-long Aqabat Shaar road in the Asir province, as the bus was traveling from Khamis Mushayt to Abha.

The road, according to Saudi Press Agency, cuts through mountains, and has 11 tunnels and 32 bridges. When the bus was making its way down a bridge it underwent a brake failure, which caused it to crash into a barrier at the end of the bridge, overturn and catch fire. About 29 other people were also injured in the accident, according to reports.

The Saudi civil defense and Red Crescent Authority teams rushed to the site of the accident and cordoned off the area.

The deceased and the injured have reportedly been transferred to nearby hospitals.

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UN says: Extraordinary economic dev among BD’s many achievements




Greeting Bangladesh, the United Nations on Sunday (26th March) said Bangladesh has many accomplishments — extraordinary economic development, a significant cultural legacy, leadership on a global stage for climate-vulnerable countries, and immense generosity in welcoming and hosting nearly a million Rohingya refugees.

“The hospitality of Bangladesh’s diverse people is just one of the many facets of a country that my colleagues and I have been fortunate to experience every day,” UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh Gwyn Lewis said in a press statement on the occasion of the country’s Independence Day.

“On behalf of the United Nations, I warmly congratulate the people of Bangladesh on the 52nd anniversary of independence,” she said.

Over the last 52 years, Bangladesh has made impressive and remarkable achievements: evolving from a war-torn country to one of the leading economic powers in South Asia, standing at the threshold of upcoming graduation from least developed countries (LDCs) in 2026, and planned achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDG) by 2030, she said.

The UN fully supports Bangladesh’s commitments to economic and sustainable development and appreciates the strong and long-lasting relationship with Bangladesh and our shared values.

The constitution of the country, which was adopted even before Bangladesh had formally become a member of the United Nations in 1974, guarantees fundamental human rights. The right to freedom of speech, religion, movement and assembly, the right to speak one’s own language and other rights that are in line with the UN charter, said the UNRC.

“Wishing you all a Happy Independence Day!” — she concluded.

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PM Sheikh Hasina, President pays homage to Liberation War Martyrs




Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina & President M Abdul Hamid paid rich tributes to the Liberation War martyrs by placing wreaths at the National Memorial at Savar on the outskirts of Dhaka early on Sunday (26th March), marking the 53rd Independence and National Day.

The president first placed the wreath at the altar of the memorial followed by the prime minister.

After laying the wreaths, the president and the premier stood in solemn silence for some time as a mark of profound respect for the memories of the martyrs of the Great War of Liberation in 1971.

A smartly turned-out contingent drawn from Bangladesh Army, Navy and Air Force presented a state salute at that time while the bugles played the last post.

The head of the state and the head of the government also signed the visitors’ book kept on the memorial premises.

Flanked by her party leaders, Sheikh Hasina, also the president of the Awami League, paid glowing tributes to the Liberation War martyrs by placing another wreath at the National Memorial on behalf of her party.

Jatiya Sangsad Speaker Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Chief Justice Hasan Foez Siddique, senior AL leaders, leaders of AL-led 14-party alliance and high civil and military officials, among others, were present there.

Later, the Jatiya Sangsad (parliament) speaker and the chief justice also paid homage to the martyrs by placing wreaths at the National Mausoleum.

Every year, March 26 brings the most tragic reminiscence of history’s blackest episode that heralded a nine-month bloody ordeal from the night of March 25, 1971, achieving the long-cherished independence on December 16 the same year at the cost of a sea of blood.

In the wake of the military crackdown by the then Pakistan occupation force, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman proclaimed the independence of Bangladesh through the then EPR (East Pakistan Rifles) wireless at 00-30 hours on March 26 (the night following March 25) in 1971 at his historic Road-32 residence at Dhanmondi in Dhaka.

The day is very auspicious and precious to the Bengali nation.

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