Vol. 5 Num 530 Wed. November 23, 2005  

Bottom Line
Focus on Bangladesh in Australia

On November 7, Monash University, Melbourne and the Bangladesh High Commission in Canberra, Australia organised an one-day conference titled "Trade and Investment Opportunities in Bangladesh" in the heart of the city of Melbourne which is the capital city of the state of Victoria, and is inhabited by about 2.5 million people. Melbourne claims to be the commercial capital of Australia.

This is the first time that a prestigious university in Australia (and a world-ranking one) has sponsored a conference that has focused on Bangladesh. Credit goes to the High Commissioner of Bangladesh Mr. Asharf-ud-Doula and his officers of the Bangladesh High Commission in linking up with the Department of Management of Monash University to hold the conference.

South Asia is not a priority region for Australia partly because the region is seen as a distant and unimportant one, although at present India is gaining notice on the political radar screen of Australia. In this light, the very fact that Monash University held a conference on Bangladesh is commendable.

The conference was chaired by Professor Julian Teicher, of the Department of Management, Monash University. The conference, besides the inaugural session, consisted of a panel discussion, a plenary session, and six sessions until 6 pm.

It was attended by Australian and Bangladeshi academics, together with Australian entrepreneurs, at a conference hall in the central business district in Melbourne.

Deliberations of the Conference
The inaugural session began at 9 am in the morning in which the State Minister of Industries of Victoria, Hon. Theo Theophanous, Vice Chancellor of Monash University, Professor Richard Larkins, the Bangladesh High Commissioner, a representative of Board of Investment (BOI) of Bangladesh, and representatives from the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industries and the Melbourne City Council spoke.

In their brief addresses, they all underscored the importance of such a conference in making Australian business enterprises aware of the opportunities in trade and investment in Bangladesh.

The Minister stressed the significance of commercial opportunities between Bangladesh and Australia. The Vice Chancellor made it amply clear that Monash University attracts numerous students from many countries, including Bangladesh, and was happy that the university was actively involved in sponsoring the conference.

The Bangladesh High Commissioner Ashraf-ud-Doula gave an outline of the trade and investment opportunities in Bangladesh, stressing that the Bangladesh private sector has led diversified economic strategies with support of the government in the overall economic growth of the country of over 5 per cent for the last decade.

The representative of the BOI described the role of BOI in providing assistance to foreign investors in the country and gave statistics that foreign direct investment in the amount of $13 billion was in the pipeline for the next twelve months from countries such as China, India, South Korea, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and members of the EU.

After the tea break, the conference resumed at 11 am. A lively panel discussion with questions from the audience took place.

Managing Director of Securency Pty. Ltd, Myles Curtis, spoke about his personal experience with Bangladesh's investment environment and painted a positive picture. It is noted that Securency Ltd is responsible for printing plastic currency notes in Bangladesh.

It was heartening to note that the Australian business executive Curtis had constructive views on Bangladesh. The questions from the audience pertained to matters such as infrastructure, port facilities, and tax incentives, and discussants replied thoughtfully to the questions posed.

During this session, both the High Commission (Commercial Counsellor M. Restadul Islam) and BOI representative (Nazrul Islam) offered in graphic ways the existing incentives, easy capital and profit repatriation and opportunities in areas in an open economic environment in Bangladesh, through power-point presentation on a big screen before the audience. It was very effective indeed.

After lunch, there was a plenary session for about one hour. The keynote speaker was Allan Myers, QC, who has extensive hospitality business in Australia. He has been involved in his line of business with Bangladesh for more than one decade.

He narrated his fruitful experience with his Bangladesh partners. At one stage he candidly cautioned, as a friend of Bangladesh, that recent events of violence by the militants in the country would likely to affect adversely the image of Bangladesh among Australian entrepreneurs.

On this point, the Bangladesh High Commissioner pointed out that no country had been spared from the evils of terrorism and stated of series of firm actions the government has taken in arresting such events in Bangladesh, and stated that new terrorism laws were being put into place by the government to punish the culprits (Australia also is in the process of legislating new terrorism laws, much the same as the British ones).

At 2:30, the Conference was divided into six sessions, two sessions were held simultaneously in separate rooms and the topics of discussion were: (a) Trade and Investment, (b) Industries Loans and Micro-Credit, (c) Globalisation and Political Economy, (d) Sustainable Development and Infrastructure, (e) Governance and Regulation, and (f) Social Issues. Each session was allocated one-hour time and the conference was wound up by 6 pm.

Many Australian and Bangladeshi academics in Australia and New Zealand participated in the sessions. They read papers on each subject, and questions were answered by the presenters to the audience.

The atmosphere in the sessions was free, animated, and breath of discussion was wide and perceptive. Many interesting views were expressed on the topics that were complex and multi-dimensional..

The conference allowed participants to share ideas between Bangladeshis and Australians about climate of investment in Bangladesh. The deliberation of the sessions went well for Bangladesh. It provided a host of reasons as to why Australia should take an interest in Bangladesh.

The discussions have highlighted the fact that Bangladesh continues to attract investment from US, Europe, Japan, China, South Korea, and Arab Countries, such as Egypt and UAE, while Australia has remained generally indifferent about the potential of Bangladesh as a business destination.

Finally, a word of appreciation goes to Professor Jullian Teicher and Dr. Sharif As-Saber, a Bangladeshi-Australian academic, both of the Department of Management, Monash University, and their team, for their tireless work behind the scenes to make the conference a great success.

Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.