The Spanish Ambassador to Bangladesh Francisco de Asís Benítez Salas praised the contribution by Bangladeshi expatriates to the EU economy over the years, in a conversation with Dhaka Tribune’s Imtiaz Ahmed and about the untapped bilateral potential between the two countries
Bangladesh-Spain bilateral trade has reached near $1 billion. What is the bilateral trade target for the next five years?
As a single country, Spain is the fourth largest customer of Bangladesh, with imports worth almost three billion euro a year.
Our commercial relations are concentrated mainly in the RMG sector and that is working very well.
However, our yearly exports to Bangladesh are still quite low, barely reaching 200 million euro.
There is, therefore, a great potential for an increase in our commercial exchanges.
The recent opening of a commercial office in our embassy and the existence of a Bangladesh-Spain Chamber of Commerce in Dhaka reflect this potential.
Our main target for the coming years is not only to increase our exports, thereby trying to improve the existing imbalance, but also to diversify our commercial relations beyond the RMG sector.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) flow to Bangladesh suffered last year because of Covid-19 pandemic. Do you see more Spanish investment in Bangladesh, particularly in the power and energy sectors? How do you evaluate the investment climate in Bangladesh?
Since the opening of our Embassy in Dhaka in 2008, we have been trying to identify business opportunities in Bangladesh and making the Bangladeshi market better known to Spanish companies of different sectors.
Parallelly, we build awareness about Spanish companies among the Bangladeshi business community and establish contacts so that they can explore opportunities.
In the energy sector, we have some examples of Spanish companies carrying out projects in Bangladesh. Técnicas Reunidas (TR), for instance, is one of them.
A big company with an extensive international record, they built, with TSK (another Spanish company), two power plants in Ashuganj, in 2014-2017. Now, TR is working on another project in Chittagong.
Técnica y Proyectos, SA (TYPSA) is another important Spanish company with a very successful record of activities in Bangladesh, having been awarded important infrastructure projects by the government.
The business and investment climate in Bangladesh has improved significantly in the last few years.
However, more needs to be done and there is still considerable room for improvement.
In the EU Embassies group, we are working closely with the government and with the business community to make the business environment more attractive to foreign investment so that companies, both local and foreign, may benefit from the potential of the Bangladeshi market, thereby creating jobs and contributing to the prosperity of the country.
Bangladesh is celebrating 50 years of independence this year. It has also become a member of a mid-income country this year. How do you see the achievement of Bangladesh’s economic success in the last 50 years?
Bangladesh has undergone an incredible social and economic transformation in the span of only fifty years.
We should bear in mind where the country was in 1971, at the moment of independence, after a very destructive War of Liberation, and where it is now, with a GDP per capita over $2,000, ready for graduation from LDC category, with dynamic and globally connected business community, a thriving economy growing over 7% a year and, to quote a very illustrative example of the Bangladeshi success, some of most technically advanced textile factories in the world.
This is more than remarkable and nobody can deny that it is a true miracle.
No country has achieved such a success in such a short period of time and, above all, after a war of liberation.
Bangladesh’s miracle is now an inspiring model for many countries.
What is the number of Bangladeshis living in your country? How does your government evaluate their contributions to your country?
Today, around 25,000 Bangladeshi nationals live in Spain.
Many of them are long term residents in our country, with their families, and have their own businesses. Others are employed in different sectors.
Their children attend Spanish schools and the families have adapted well to our way of life.
The Bangladeshi community in Spain are very entrepreneurial 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 they live in.
Spain has a major success in the travel and tourism sector. How can Dhaka and Madrid collaborate to promote Bangladesh's tourism sector?
Spain, as a tourist destination, is still fairly unknown to Bangladeshi travelers. Also, Bangladesh, because of its long history, culture and traditions, has a great tourism potential to be developed.
The foundations are there: not only a thriving economy but especially unique river culture, scenery and wildlife throughout the country, with the Sundarbans as an outstanding example.
The country’s centuries-deep culture is reflected today in historical sites, cuisine, music or architecture, to name only a few elements.
We are in contact with the representatives of the tourism industry in Bangladesh and with Turespaña, the Spanish Tourism Board, in order to study actions with a view to increasing the flow of tourism between both countries by disseminating more information about our countries among potential travelers from Spain and Bangladesh and participating in tourism events.
Bangladesh's export is heavily dependent on the RMG sector (80-85% of its total export). Can Spain help Bangladesh in diversifying its export basket?
Diversifying exports is a main and pressing challenge for the Bangladesh industry.
Bangladesh already has the potential for diversification.
There are thriving industries in the country other than RMG, such as motorcycles, jute, steel, shipping, household and electrical appliances, and pharmaceuticals, for example.
By trying to diversify our bilateral commercial exchanges, helping Spanish companies explore business opportunities in Bangladesh in different sectors (infrastructures, railways, agricultural equipment, agro-food industries, health, energy, recycling and others), and by facilitating increased contacts between Spanish companies and the Bangladeshi business community we can also help diversify Bangladeshi export industry.