Dhaka, Bangladesh
Trade among C'wealth countries may reach $700b by 2020

Trade among C'wealth countries may reach $700b by 2020

By Md Shahriar Alam

Trade among Commonwealth countries is expected to increase by at least 17 per cent to around $700 billion by 2020. Together with greenfield investment, intra-Commonwealth trade is expected to surpass $1.5 trillion, as projected by the Commonwealth Trade Review 2018. State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md. Shahriar Alam, MP said this while speaking at the seminar titled 'Commonwealth Advantage - Progress and Potential' held at BIISS on Wednesday. The rest par to his speech is given below: This is indeed highly encouraging but it has to be supported and further boosted by bold and innovative connectivity projects of multimodal nature. In this context, I emphasise expeditious development of the action plan by the Secretariat, as mandated by the Declaration on the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda for Trade and Investment adopted at CHOGM 2018, which would consider capacity building and hard and soft connectivity. Bangladesh would be keen to join the process of formulating the draft plan. I thank BIISS for organising this event on the occasion of the Commonwealth Secretary General's visit. We are happy to welcome the Secretary General to Bangladesh and to have this opportunity to exchange views with her on a better Commonwealth we need to work for. The Government of Bangladesh values the Commonwealth and holds it important in our journey towards development and progress. The people of Bangladesh also have high expectations that this organization, with its fundamental values and long tradition plays a useful and effective role in the 21st century we are passing through with new realities and challenges. Commonwealth is no longer only an association of Nations, it is now also an organisation with multiple stakeholders and diverse organisations bound by common aspirations of a better future. The organisation has always been viewed as an enlightened world body with pioneering role and best practices. We expect therefore, more from the Commonwealth. We will be listening to the Hon'ble Foreign Minister more on the vision side - on what kind of Commonwealth Bangladesh would like to see; what kind of focus, approach and reforms we prefer for Commonwealth of tomorrow. I would however, like to dwell on what programmes and activities we feel important are for the Commonwealth. Definitely development is our focus and socio-economic fields are our priorities which fall within the broadened focus areas of the Commonwealth. My business background prompts me to take trade and investment as a priority, particularly in the context of Brexit where Commonwealth holds for us enormous possibilities and excellent options with advantages that I believe the Secretary General will touch upon in her deliberation. Certainly, as an LDC graduating into middle income status, Bangladesh sees good value and use in rules based preferential and free trading system, specially, within a Commonwealth of 2.3 billion people. Trade among Commonwealth countries is expected to increase by at least 17 per cent to around $700 billion by 2020. Together with greenfield investment, intra-Commonwealth trade is expected to surpass $1.5 trillion, as projected by the Commonwealth Trade Review 2018. This is indeed highly encouraging but it has to be supported and further boosted by bold and innovative connectivity projects of multimodal nature. In this context, I emphasise expeditious development of the action plan by the Secretariat, as mandated by the Declaration on the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda for Trade and Investment adopted at CHOGM 2018, which would consider capacity building and hard and soft connectivity. Bangladesh would be keen to join the process of formulating the draft plan. To enhance trade and investment, we seriously need to take forward the visa liberalization project discussed during the Malta CHOGM for providing smart cards or long term multiple visa schemes for bonafide business people. We can think of ocean cruise liners cum container lorry services operating under regular shipping services. We can also think of intra Commonwealth investment under PPP system with 20% less cost of doing business. We can radically change the conventional concept of investment and technology transfer and by introducing innovation and creative models we can go for creative value chains. We can create strategic business alliances with cluster of member states involved and develop consortium funding for mega projects of connectivity and infrastructures, making good use of diaspora financing and cross border stakes. At the same time, it is not only about mega projects. The power of the Commonwealth must also be harnessed for the small and medium-sized enterprises. I understand that the Commonwealth has launched a network of SMEs. It is important that this network is an inclusive one. It is estimated that Bangladesh has more than 80,000 SMEs and natural-resource based industries. And if we include the micro enterprises (operating with fewer than 100 employees), the number would touch 6 million. We need appropriate and affordable technology for increasing the value addition in these enterprises and to compete internationally. Commonwealth may work in close coordination with newly established technology bank for helping LDCs in this regard. For, undeniably, technology is a great enabler of trade. Most importantly, in all our efforts, we must pay special attention to employment generation. This is because our SMEs are fundamentally our women and young entrepreneurs. We cannot reap the benefits of development if we cannot galvanise and empower our women and youth. These are crucial factors that can combine towards success in achieving the internationally agreed goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In this context, I would like to stress on the proposal made by our Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the London CHOGM for the Secretariat to assist member states in creation of a mechanism or platform for sharing good practices on the SDGs, among the Commonwealth members. With sixty percent of the Commonwealth's population being under 30, our association has the highest percentage of youth force. We must make best use of their productive potential in our socio-economic development. With its unique strengths, scope and global voice, the Commonwealth can set a powerful example to the world, by helping member states to create jobs, to take up programmes specifically for enhancing resilience to vulnerabilities, to drive economic growth, ultimately to increase the prosperity of our citizens.

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