Appreciating South Korea for preferential market access to Bangladeshi products covering 95% of tariff lines, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen hoped that Korea will continue this trade facility even after 2026 when Bangladesh will be graduated to middle-income country.
“We hope that South Korean government would continue to extend preferential market access to our products even after 2026 so that bilateral trade may continue to grow with favourable balance of trade between our two friendly countries,” he said.
Korean Ambassador to Bangladesh Lee Jang-Keun and Bangladesh Ambassador to Korea Delwar Hossain also spoke on the occasion as special guests.
Expressing gratitude to Korea for its recognition to Bangladesh as an independent state on May 12 in 1972, Momen said Bangladesh attaches great importance to the relations with Korea, our tested and trusted friend and an important development partner.
In last five decades, he said the bilateral collaboration has expanded to a wide range of areas, including trade and commerce, investment, development cooperation, education and human resource development, ICT, defence, and cultural exchanges. “Currently, RMG sector is our pride and it started with Korean assistance in 1979.”
“On the auspicious occasion of the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations, we seek to elevate our bilateral relationship with South Korea to new heights, forging a deeper comprehensive economic partnership based on common priorities with long-term perspectives,” he said adding “I believe unflinching political commitment from both sides and regular high-level consultations are highly essential to this end.”
Terming South Korea as one of the major trading partners of Bangladesh, he said the volume of bilateral trade witnessed a record high in 2021 crossing US $1.5 billion after almost 10 years of stagnation.
He also said Korea is the fifth largest FDI source country for Bangladesh with an accumulated FDI stock of over US$ 1.3 billion.
Although the Korean companies started investing in Bangladesh in the early 1980’s mainly in textile and apparel sectors, Momen said Korean investors have now started investing in diverse sectors, including leather and leather products, consumer electronics, mobile phones, home appliances, automobiles, ICT, infrastructure, etc. Presently, more than 150 Korean companies have significant presence in Bangladesh.
The Foreign Minister said it is also a matter of satisfaction that Bangladesh authorities and South Korean private investors have selected four infrastructure projects worth of over US$ 10 billion for implementation under PPP model.
“We are hopeful that South Korean private investments in our infrastructure sector would further improve our economic landscape to tap the potentials beckoning us beyond 2026. I would like to encourage relevant public and private sectors of our two countries to work closely to further deepen our cooperation for mutual benefits,” he said.
Korean Ambassador Lee Jang-Keun in his speech said it was on May 12th 1972, 50 years ago today that Korea recognised the newly independent Bangladesh.
“But I have to say that we will wait until next year to officially celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries, because we established diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level in 18 December 1973, one and a half year after the recognition.”
“You may be surprised if I say that Korea established diplomatic ties with India just five days before the establishment of diplomatic ties with Bangladesh. It means that next year Korea will celebrate the golden jubilee of diplomatic ties both with Bangladesh and India,” he said.
Ambassador Lee further said: “You may not believe that Korea established diplomatic relations with Pakistan much later than Bangladesh. We established consular relations with Pakistan in 1968, but it was only in 1983 that Korea established ambassadorial diplomatic relations with Pakistan.”
Addressing the seminar, he said Korea and Bangladesh have cultivated excellent relations and produced many success stories of collaboration in many fields during the past five decades.
The prime example of success is the RMG collaboration and Korea has played a crucial role in the birth of Bangladesh’s RMG industry, he said adding that the collaboration between Desh Garment of Bangladesh and Daewoo Corporation of Korea in 1979 enabled the factory level garment industry in Bangladesh which has grown to the country’s main industry.
“Korea has been with Bangladesh not only in the birth but also in the growth of Bangladesh’s RMG sector. Out of the 1.3 billion dollars investment by Korean companies in Bangladesh, around 900 million dollars, almost 80 percent of Korea’s total investment is still in the RMG sector,” said the envoy.
He cited that KEPZ in Chattogram, operated by a Korean company Youngone Corporation, the first and biggest RMG foreign investor, is a symbol and model of Korea-Bangladesh relations. About 100 Korean RMG companies operating in Bangladesh are creating more than 200,000 direct local jobs.
These Korean investments have also contributed to empowering women in Bangladesh by providing job opportunities to them, said Ambassador Lee adding “The success story of Korea-Bangladesh RMG collaboration is now leading us towards other success stories of collaboration in other fields, from infrastructure to electronics and automobiles.”
In partnership with a Bangladesh company, he said Samsung Electronics is locally manufacturing most of its electronic gadgets. Hyundai Motors will soon start assembling their cars in the country. These collaborations will not only create quality jobs but also lead to the transfer of related technologies and contribute to the industrial capacity building of Bangladesh.
He said the stories of Bangladesh expatriate workers in Korea is another example of the successful collaboration and Korea has become one of the most popular destinations for Bangladesh expatriate workers. “The remittance they are sending back home is increasing rapidly from around 80 million dollars in 2016/17 to 209 million dollars in 2020/21.”
Despite the disruptions from the Covid-19 pandemic the trade volume between the two countries reached a historic high last year crossing 2 billion dollars and increased by more than 40 percent, both in import and export, said the Korean envoy.
While highlighting the success stories, he said the current geopolitical situation around the world is posing grave challenges to us all, not only internationally but also regionally and bilaterally. The consequent disruptions in the global supply chain have put many countries in difficulties including Korea and Bangladesh. “We all have to cooperate together more than before to get over these unprecedented geopolitical challenges of today.”
On the other hand, he believes that to some extent the current geopolitical situation is creating more opportunities than challenges to Korea and Bangladesh for closer collaboration. Companies have realized the risks from geopolitical confrontations and the necessity of diversifying their investment and partners.
“In this situation Bangladesh is increasingly becoming an attractive partner for Korean companies. I also sense that Korea is becoming a more and more attractive partner to Bangladesh for reducing or avoiding the geopolitical risk.”
In Korea, the Ambassador said a new President was sworn in just three days ago and President Yoon Suk Yeol made clear his commitment in his inaugural speech to actively promote universal values and international norms that are based on freedom and respect for human rights and to fulfill its responsibility as a trusted member of the international community.
“I am sure that the new administration in Korea will offer a fresh opportunity for our two countries to open a new chapter of comprehensive partnership towards the next five decades, obviously based on the many achievements we have already made together so far,” he added.
The seminar was also addressed by Prof Delwar Hossain, Ali Siddique, Anwarul Azim, Aditi hakrovorty and Saiful Hoque of Dhaka of Dhaka University, and Shahriar Kabir Siddiky of Econmic Relations Division and Mahfuz Kabir of BIISS.