Japan has been the most committed partner of Bangladesh and it is expected that this time-tested friendship will remain unhurt no matter what. In the year 2022, the two nations will celebrate 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations, as an opportunity to further strengthen the bonds between the two nations. In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Courier (DC), Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh Ito Naoki has said they will promote more and more interactions in various fields in the period leading upto the Golden Anniversary.

Ambassador Naoki sincerely hopes the people of Bangladesh get interested in, and take part in the anniversary events and festivities.

DC: What are the priorities for you during your tenure in Dhaka?

Ambassador Naoki: My first priority here is to make our two countries and peoples even closer to each other, in many fields. Since being appointed as Ambassador of Japan to Bangladesh in October, I feel very much honored and humbled to represent Japan in this country, full of energy and potential of development.

It was beyond my expectation that people in Bangladesh are overwhelmingly sympathetic with Japan, calling us "time-tested friend". In the year 2022, our two nations will celebrate 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, which will be very good opportunity to further deepen our friendship and partnership. I hope more and more Bangladeshi people get interested in Japan and its culture. I will do my best to promote interactions between Japan and Bangladesh on various levels and fields.

DC: The coming years are extremely important for the growing bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Japan. What are the initiatives that you would like to take the relationship to next level?

Ambassador Naoki: Japan and Bangladesh have been enjoying friendly bilateral relations since the independence of Bangladesh. In 2014, H.E. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and H. E. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina exchanged their visits in the same year, and in May 2019 the Prime Ministers affirmed their determination to further develop the bilateral relationship through initiatives and actions including high-level mutual visits.

Speaking of Japan-Bangladesh relations, I would like to share the fact that Japan is one of the earliest countries that recognized Bangladesh and has been the most committed and largest development partner.

Bangladesh has been achieving remarkable economic growth in recent years. Peaceful and rule-based international order is becoming increasingly important for the sustainability of the further development. At above-mentioned bilateral Summit Meeting held in May 2019, the two leaders of Japan and Bangladesh shared the ideas of 'Free and Open Indo-Pacific' based on common values such as freedom, the rule of law and market economy. Based on this vision for prosperity, Japan will support the sustainable development of Bangladesh and promote quality infrastructure building in this region to take our relationship to the next level.

DC: How do you describe Bangladesh, its growth and future challenges?

Ambassador Naoki: As of 2019, the population of Bangladesh is over 163 million, which was ranked the 8th largest in the world. From the economic perspective, Asian Development Outlook (supplement) projects Bangladesh's GDP grows by 8.1% in 2019 and 8.0% in 2020. These trends imply rapid expansion of domestic market with increasing purchasing power of the people in Bangladesh. In fact, Bangladesh's GNI per capita (atlas method, current US$) reached 1,750 US$ which was more than 15% increase from the previous year according to World Development Indicator. The Government of Bangladesh has been carrying out a number of mega infrastructure projects to accelerate such growth, aiming to join middle-income countries by 2021 and advanced countries by 2041. There is no doubt in Bangladesh's high growth potential in coming 20 years.

On the other hand, I believe such growth will be taking hold when the economy is backed by timely development of infrastructure and improvement in investment environment, including reform of taxation system to attract FDI and enhancement of governance entailed with capacity development and institutional building.

Japan always stands with Bangladesh and we are more than happy to extend any assistance in this regard.

DC: Japan supports the early repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar in a safe, voluntary and dignified manner under UN cooperation. What are the genuine efforts that Japan would like to take to make this come true?

Ambassador Naoki: Firstly, I would like to commend the government of Bangladesh for its immense contribution in this issue. Bangladesh embraces more than 1 million people who fled from the neighboring country Myanmar.

It is essential for Myanmar to create an environment conducive to the early repatriation of displaced persons as Prime Minister Abe told State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi during the bilateral summit meeting in October. Also, it is indispensable for the Myanmar government and military to promptly take appropriate measures according to the recommendations of the Independent Commission of Enquiry as Prime Minister Abe urged State Counsellor at the said summit meeting.

Since the massive influx of displaced people into Bangladesh in August 2017, the Government of Japan had granted approximately US$ 99.2 million to International organizations and NGOs supporting the camps in Cox's Bazar for the displaced people and the host communities by providing food, shelter, medical services and human-resource trainings.

DC: The number of Japanese companies in Bangladesh has increased by 50 percent over the last five years. What are the areas Japanese investors are much interested to investment in Bangladesh?

Ambassador Naoki: It is my great pleasure to share with you the number of Japanese companies currently operating in Bangladesh reached 305. The ready-made garments industry has been one of the major destinations of Japanese investment to Bangladesh and nowadays garments with "Made in Bangladesh" is gaining more recognition in Japan. Other areas attracting Japanese companies will be for example food processing, pharmaceutical, light engineering and ICT. Recently Japanese companies are also showing interest in providing financial services such as life insurance targeting domestic market with the middle-class.

DC: What's the current volume of Japanese investment in Bangladesh?

Ambassador Naoki: The total annual private investment amount from Japan to Bangladesh in 2018 marked US$ 58 million, and in 2019 at least 25 Japanese companies newly extended their business to Bangladesh. To further accelerate such investment trend, improvement of investment climate to provide potential investors with tax incentives and needy infrastructure is crucial.

DC: What are the products that Japan is interested to import from Bangladesh?

Ambassador Naoki: Ready-made garments have been a long-standing import items from Bangladesh to Japan. Apart from RMG, Japanese companies are gradually seeing Bangladesh as a quality source of fisheries. In fact in recent years, import of prawns and crabs from Bangladesh to Japan has been increasing.

DC: What are the measures that Bangladesh can take to further improve investment climate?

To make more business-friendly environment, I would like to suggest to watch carefully the difficulties that the Japanese companies are already facing in Bangladesh, especially in the segments of tax and financial system. It would also be important to prepare efficient facilities in the EPZs, which is the fundamental for attracting more foreign investment. In the end, I believe taking good care of the companies already operating in Bangladesh will connect to the next step.

DC: Do you have any message for the people of Bangladesh?

Ambassador Naoki: I have been in Bangladesh for almost three months now and what impresses me very much is the hospitality and kindness of the people of Bangladesh. I would like to appreciate that everyone I met in Bangladesh welcomed me so warmly and made me feel at home.

Another thing that astonished me is the energy and vitality of Bangladesh. It is in its historic stage of development and is literally growing day by day. We are happy to see that Bangladesh has satisfied all the criteria for graduation from LDC in 2018, and Japan supports every effort of Bangladesh to become the role-model of development.

I feel very much honored to witness this historic stage of development in Bangladesh, and looking forward to seeing how this young, growing country will progress during my tenure.

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