While attending the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, New Europe’s Federico Grandesso spoke with Bangladeshi MP and business man Salman F. Rahman, about the technology and trade issues in his country and at global scale.
New Europe (NE): What is your political role at the moment in Bangladesh?
Salman F Rahman (SFR): I’m a member of both the government and parliament. Our prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, gave me the responsibility to be an advisor that looks after the private sector’s industry and investment.
NE: How can technology support democratization in Bangladesh and the developing world?
SFR: To a very large extent, technology is something that our prime minister has put a lot of emphasis on. Ten years ago, when we decided that we will make Bangladesh a fully digital country, lots of people were very sceptical. Today, we are one of the few countries in the world to have a fiber optics back bone that provides broadband all the way down to the village level. Our lowest level local authorities are called unions and we now have over 5,000 unions who have broadband connectivity to 3,500 other unions. Now we have identified that the government provides nearly 7,500 services to our citizens and we are in the process of putting all these services on-line. We have 3,000 services that are already on-line. When this project will be completed it will provide lots of benefits. It will cut down on corruption. Another advantage is that efficiency and productivity both go up tremendously. All of this ultimately contributes to build a strong democracy.
NE: Bangladesh is part of the China’s “Belt and Road” initiative. The questions is “why”? And, furthermore, how do you attract more investments from China?
SFR: About “Belt and Road”, we will become a key actor in the global supply chain, which China is a part of and we will certainly benefit from that. The way we interpreted what China wants with this project is to share its economic prosperity with other countries. For us, it is a good initiative that we want to be part of. It is important to highlight that Chinese businessman are already operating in my country on a very large scale. I wasn’t at all surprised to know recently that over 250,000 Chinese are now living in Bangladesh. We started an initiative called “country specific economic zones” and China has already take two of them. That means the areas are exclusively dedicated for Chinese investors.
NE: Chinese investors are known to be successful investors. Which areas would you suggest a Chinese investor to focus on?
SFR: There are lots of opportunities. As a big market, my country has 165 Million people, we have a growing middle class. For the domestic market there are opportunities in the agro-processing and light engineering industries, as well as in consumer goods. The Chinese can play a big role in these areas. This is not limited to the internal market, Beijing is using our country as a base for manufacturing and exporting to the region and to Europe, as well.
NE: Which area of technology is most important for Bangladesh to develop in 2020?
SFR: Technology is moving very fast in the fields of robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, and many others. Rather than choosing a particular area, we are creating the infrastructure that is needed so that we can take full advantage of new types of technology. When the fourth industrial revolution begins, we should be prepared for its challenges because we are putting a lot of energy into upgrading the skills of our people. In primary school we have begun teaching children how to code, so by the time they reach secondary school they can become programmers. Then, of course, we have high tech parks. The World Economic Forum recently released a report saying that Bangladesh has the second-highest number of on-line workers in the world after India. This is because of the broadband connectivity that we have all the way down to the village level. Then we have the fact that our population is very young – the average age is only 26 years. All of these young people can sit at home and do freelancing and IT work.
NE: Geopolitics is becoming more and more turbulent and some analysts are predicting that a global economic slowdown may happen which could include a possible recession. Do you share these same concerns?
SFR: I don’t share that vision although I do believe that we should go back to the multilateral trading environment that we had for decades. Unfortunately, in the past few years we have see that it had shifted from multilateralism to bilateralism. Now I feel, especially for my country, that growth will continue and we have created a lot of infrastructure to support that growth. We are, however, concerned about the shift away from the WTO rules-based system that we had as it helped global trade. We feel that it should continue.
NE: What is your opinion about globalisation? Do you think that it will continue?
SFR: I think globalisation will continue especially because of technology, I think that it will became even, let’s say, more “global“. Those countries, societies, and companies which are able to prepare themselves to face the challenge of new technology, they are the ones who will benefit from it.