Spanish Ambassador to Bangladesh Francisco de AsÃs BenÃtez Salas praised the contribution of Bangladeshi expatriates to the EU economy over the years, in a conversation with Dhaka Tribuneof Imtiaz Ahmed and on the untapped bilateral potential between the two countries
Bangladesh-Spain bilateral trade has reached nearly $ 1 billion. What is the bilateral trade target for the next five years?
As a unique country, Spain is Bangladesh’s fourth-largest customer, with imports worth nearly three billion euros per year.
Our business relationship is mainly focused on RMG sector and it is working very well.
However, our annual exports to Bangladesh are still quite low, barely reaching â‚¬ 200 million.
There is therefore a great potential for increasing our trade.
The recent opening of a trade office in our embassy and the existence of a Bangladesh-Spain chamber of commerce in Dhaka reflect this potential.
Our main objective for the coming years is not only to increase our exports, thus trying to improve the existing imbalance, but also to diversify our trade relations beyond the RMG sector.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) flows to Bangladesh suffered last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Do you see more Spanish investments in Bangladesh, especially in the electricity and energy sectors? How do you assess the investment climate in Bangladesh?
Since opening our Embassy in Dhaka in 2008, we have been trying to identify business opportunities in Bangladesh and raise awareness of the Bangladeshi market to Spanish companies from different sectors.
At the same time, we educate Spanish companies about the Bangladeshi business community and make contacts so that they can explore opportunities.
In the energy sector, we have some examples of Spanish companies carrying out projects in Bangladesh. TÃ©cnicas Reunidas (TR), for example, is one of them.
A large company with a wide international track record, they built, together with TSK (another Spanish company), two power plants in Ashuganj, in 2014-2017. Now TR is working on another project in Chittagong.
TÃ©cnica y Proyectos, SA (TYPSA) is another important Spanish company with a very successful record of activities in Bangladesh, having received major infrastructure projects by the government.
The business and investment climate in Bangladesh has improved considerably in recent years.
However, much remains to be done and there is still considerable room for improvement.
Within the EU embassy group, we work closely with government and the business community to make the business environment more attractive for foreign investment so that businesses, both local and foreign, can take advantage of the potential of the Bangladeshi market, thereby creating jobs and contributing to the country’s prosperity.
Bangladesh is celebrating 50 years of independence this year. It also became a member of a middle income country this year. How do you see Bangladesh’s economic success over the past 50 years?
Bangladesh has undergone an incredible social and economic transformation in the space of just fifty years.
You have to keep in mind where the country was in 1971, at the time of independence, after a very destructive liberation war, and where it is today, with a GDP per capita above 2,000 dollars, ready to step out of the PMA category, with a dynamic and globally connected business community, a thriving economy that is growing at over 7% per year and, to cite a very illustrative example of Bangladeshi success, some of the most technically advances in the world.
It is more than remarkable and no one can deny that it is a true miracle.
No country has achieved such success in such a short time and, above all, after a war of liberation.
The miracle of Bangladesh is now an inspiring model for many countries.
How many Bangladeshis are living in your country? How does your government assess its contributions to your country?
Today, around 25,000 Bangladeshi nationals live in Spain.
Many of them are long-time residents of our country, with their families, and have their own businesses. Others are employed in different sectors.
Their children attend Spanish schools and families have adapted well to our way of life.
The Bangladeshi community in Spain is very enterprising and hard working. Through their economic activities, they represent a very positive contribution to the Spanish economy and an additional element of diversity in the communities in which they live.
Spain has great success in the travel and tourism sector. How can Dhaka and Madrid work together to promote Bangladesh’s tourism sector?
Spain, as a tourist destination, is still relatively unknown to Bangladeshi travelers. In addition, Bangladesh, due to its long history, culture and traditions, has great tourism potential to develop.
The foundations are there: not only a thriving economy, but above all a river culture, landscapes and wildlife that are unique throughout the country, with the Sundarbans as an exceptional example.
The country’s centuries-old culture is reflected today in historic sites, cuisine, music or architecture, to name a few.
We are in contact with representatives of the tourism industry in Bangladesh and with TurespaÃ±a, the Spanish Tourist Office, in order to study actions to increase tourist flows between the two countries by disseminating more information. about our countries among potential travelers from Spain and Bangladesh and participate in tourist events.
Bangladesh’s exports depend heavily on the RMG sector (80-85% of its total exports). Can Spain help Bangladesh diversify its export basket?
Export diversification is a major and urgent challenge for the Bangladeshi industry.
Bangladesh already has potential for diversification.
There are thriving industries in the country other than RMG, such as motorcycles, jute, steel, shipping, home and electrical appliances, and pharmaceuticals, for example.
By trying to diversify our bilateral trade, helping Spanish companies to explore business opportunities in Bangladesh in different sectors (infrastructure, railways, agricultural equipment, food industries, health, energy, recycling and others), and facilitating increased contacts between Spanish companies and the Bangladeshi business community, we can also help diversify the Bangladeshi export industry.