Bangladesh, Singapore keen to boost links for mutual benefit

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - Airline and market access pacts inked; more deals set to be signed.

Bangladesh and Singapore are at different levels of development, but can complement each other in their pursuit of economic growth, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said yesterday (Mar 12).

Singapore has the capital, advanced technology and know-how, while Bangladesh can offer a large, young and educated workforce, she said on the second day of an official visit which is expected to forge more business opportunities between the two countries.

"These comparative advantages may be harnessed to our mutual benefit," Madam Hasina said in her toast speech at the Istana, where she was hosted to lunch by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Her Singapore counterpart acknowledged that Bangladesh and Singapore's strategic locations - with Singapore situated between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and Bangladesh located in the heart of South Asia - facilitate the flow of people, goods and investment between their two regions.

The two countries should do more together, he added, noting that Singapore-based companies are keen on the growing Bangladeshi market.

Sembcorp is one of the largest investors in Bangladesh's energy sector, with more than US$1.1 billion (S$1.45 billion) invested in power plants, while PSA is interested in exploring opportunities at Chittagong Port, the busiest seaport on the Bay of Bengal's coastline.

Madam Hasina, who also visited PSA International yesterday, expects her visit will "usher in a new era of economic cooperation between our two countries".

Earlier in the day, both leaders witnessed the inking of two agreements, to boost air connectivity between the countries and ease the market entry process for Singapore companies looking to venture into Bangladesh, one of the world's fastest-growing economies.

International Enterprise (IE) Singapore signed a pact with Bangladesh's Public Private Partnership Authority to help Singapore companies participate directly in public-private partnership infrastructure projects in Bangladesh, which has, over the last decade, seen a strong average GDP growth of 6.3 per cent.

As the country develops, demand for infrastructure solutions - especially in power, energy, transport and logistics, and ports - has surged, with the Bangladeshi government this year announcing a 38 per cent increase in the budget for transport and 44 per cent increase in that for power.

Singapore infrastructure com-panies have been gaining trac-tion in Bangladesh. Sembcorp, for instance, has a power plant in the Sirajganj district, and Sinenergy is developing a solar farm in Sutiakhali.

Meanwhile, a second pact signed on Monday (Mar 19) will see the airlines of Singapore and Bangladesh operate more passenger and cargo services between and beyond the countries.

Four other agreements to step up business and technological cooperation between them will be signed today (Mar 13) at the Bangladesh-Singapore Forum, where Madam Hasina is expected to make a vigorous pitch on the economic opportunities available in Bangladesh.

PM Lee said that these agreements will be a signal to busi-nesses "that relations between our two business communities and our two governments are good, and the winds are favourable for their ventures if they decide to sail together".

Madam Hasina said Singapore continues to be a favourite destination for Bangladeshi workers, adding: "I hope that Singapore will continue to provide them with a decent work atmosphere."

She noted that Bangladesh and Singapore share a similar outlook on many issues of global concern.

"Our positions are based on a deeper understanding of, and respect for, each other's values, principles and approaches," said Madam Hasina, adding that Bangladesh hopes to forge deeper cooperation with Asean during Singapore's term at the regional grouping's helm.

PM Lee, meanwhile, paid tribute to the rich cultural links between Bangladesh and Singapore that have reinforced their longstanding friendship.

He noted that writer Rabindranath Tagore - the first Asian to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the composer of Bangladesh's national anthem - had visited Singapore in the 1920s, and written about the region.

Tagore Avenue in Yio Chu Kang - "in my parliamentary constituency", PM Lee noted to laughter - is named in his honour, and his works still bring Singaporeans and Bangladeshis together.

This literary exchange continues, said PM Lee, citing how Singapore's Institute of South Asian Studies in 2015 partnered local Bengali newspaper Banglar Kantha to launch six poetry collections during an event celebrating the works of migrant workers here.

He added: "These strong people-to-people linkages form a key basis for our multi-faceted relationship."

In the morning, Madam Hasina received a ceremonial welcome at the Istana, where she also called on President Halimah Yacob.

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