Bangladesh now a development model, much-respected nation globally, says Ambassador Turan

Turkish Ambassador to Bangladesh Mustafa Osman Turan has said his country eyes an increased investment in Bangladesh with a significant jump in bilateral trade volume through product diversification as Bangladesh's economy is growing fast.

"We see a Bangladesh which has a very bright future. Its economy is growing fast like ours. Turkish investors are keen to invest in Bangladesh as it offers attractive incentives for foreign investors," he told Dhaka Courier in an interview at his office.

Ambassador Turan who came to Bangladesh just before the Covid-19 pandemic said a prominent Turkish company will invest US$ 100 million in LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) sector in Chattogram. "That will be an initial investment."

He said improving trade between the two countries, boosting investment in Bangladesh, enhancing cultural and people-to- people ties are among his priorities during his tenure in Bangladesh.

"As an envoy, there's always a desire to do something more," Ambassador Turan said, adding that he is lucky to see the positive atmosphere in place created by his predecessors to take forward the relations to a new height.

The envoy, who also served in Italy, Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Austria, Afghanistan and Belgium, laid emphasis on product diversification to help grow trade between the two countries. "Our economies are growing quite fast. We're happy that our economic and trade relations are improving. We're expecting better trade volume between the two countries."

The Turkish envoy said they buy a lot of jute products from Bangladesh and will explore other areas saying the two countries can always diversify their trade.

"Bangladesh has a very strong pharmaceutical industry, growing IT industry," he said adding that agro industries, light engineering, service sector, tourism and health sector are some promising areas of cooperation.

The bilateral trade volume between the two countries is now around US$ 1 billion and the Ambassador said there is a scope to increase it further.

Ambassador Turan said the trade volume between the two countries in the first 10 months of the current year stood at US$754 million and the figure is the same what the two countries had seen in the first 10 months of 2019.

"That's good news indeed! We kept the same level of trade despite the pandemic where other countries are experiencing a significant drop in their trade volumes. This year, the trade balance is in favour of Bangladesh as Bangladesh is selling a lot of jute products to Turkey," he pointed out.

Main commodities exported to Bangladesh from Turkey are raw materials, agriculture and food products, textile and agriculture machinery and textile chemicals, while Turkey imports jute yarns and twine, jute manufacturers' knitwear and readymade garments.

Talking about Turkish companies' presence in Bangladesh, the Ambassador said Turkey's leading home appliance manufacturer Arçelik bought majority shares of Singer Bangladesh and made it quite profitable.

The Turkish company thinks Singer Bangladesh's business will benefit significantly from the sale as Arçelik is a much larger and financially stronger company with a commitment to, and a worldwide reputation in the home appliance sector.

The Ambassador said the Turkish investors are interested to invest in a special economic zone as Bangladesh offers quite attractive incentives for investment.

"We're going to organise a virtual meeting among businesses of the two countries," Ambassador Turan said.

Top executives of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA), Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI) and Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK) of Turkey will take part in the discussion to identify areas of cooperation and explore opportunities jointly. Turkish contracting companies are also interested in mega infrastructure projects in Bangladesh.

50 Years of Independence

The Turkish Ambassador, who joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey in 1992, highly appreciated Bangladesh's growth, especially the achievements made over the last 10 years saying 50 years have been quite a significant journey for Bangladesh.

"Bangladesh is progressing in a speedy way with an impressive development achieved in the last 10 years under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In the last decade, Bangladesh has become a model for many developing countries," he said.

The Turkish Ambassador said Bangladesh has got a solid foundation given by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and today Bangladesh is a much-respected nation globally.

He said Bangladesh's foreign policy - "friendship to all, malice to none", is coinciding with Turkey's foreign policy motto "peace at home, peace in the world."

The Ambassador said Bangladesh is making significant contributions to global peace through its robust engagement with the UN peacekeeping operations.

Therefore, it will be a very well-deserved celebration for Bangladesh, its people and the government of Bangladesh, he said.

Talking about Turkish presence in the mega celebrations on March 26, the Ambassador said they are looking into how the situation evolves following Covid-19 pandemic.

He said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, while virtually inaugurating the newly-built Bangladesh Embassy complex in Ankara on September 14, invited President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan through Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen also handed over the invitation to his Turkish counterpart to visit Bangladesh.

"We'll see how the Covid-19 situation evolves in March next year. We don't know yet how the situation will be at that time," the Ambassador said.

Ambassador Turan expressed satisfaction over his discussion with a number of ministers in Bangladesh regarding cooperation between the two countries in the coming years. "I am hoping to meet with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Speaker Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury soon."

Hospital to Be Built

Responding to a question, the Turkish Ambassador said Turkey wants to establish a hospital in Bangladesh as it has vast experience in the health sector.

He said it is not yet decided whether the hospital will be a specialized one or a general hospital but they plan to build it in Dhaka. "That's one of the big projects in our mind. We would like to share our experience."

The Ambassador said they want to explore opportunities in medical tourism. "We provide very good health services. That's why Turkey has become one of the top five destinations for health tourism in the world. Turkey could be another destination for those Bangladeshis who go abroad for better treatment."

He also said Turkey wants to boost cultural exchanges and academic cooperation to help Turkish and Bangladeshi people learn more about each other.

"It gives me much pleasure that Turkish TV serials are becoming very popular in Bangladesh," said Ambassador Turan adding that relations between Turkish and Bengali nations have strong historical and cultural roots dating back before the foundation of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.

Solidarity amid Covid-19

The Turkish Ambassador appreciated Bangladesh's efforts in dealing with the Covid-19 situation. "It's good to see that the situation is under control in Bangladesh. Bangladesh made it possible to deal with the situation in a very efficient way."

He said this is a challenging situation for all the countries due to Covid-19 pandemic and it is time to help each other. "We have to deal with it with solidarity and unity. We remain in solidarity with Bangladesh."

The Turkish envoy said upon instruction from President Erdoğan Turkish Ministry of Health provided five tonnes of medical supplies to Bangladesh including masks, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and ventilators.

He said Turkey provided medical supplies to 150 countries and Bangladesh is one of those countries.

Real Leadership Shown

Ambassador Turan said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has demonstrated true leadership by allowing shelter to over 700 thousand Rohingyas with a decent living condition.

The envoy, who visited Rohingya camps twice, laid emphasis on collaboration with the international community and donor agencies as the expenditure behind Rohingyas is huge, no matter where they are living. "We would like to see better collaboration and it'll be much easier to help the Rohingyas."

"It's the right of the government of Bangladesh to decide where it'll host Rohingyas," Ambassador Turan said, recognising that Bangladesh has invested significantly making Bhasan Char habitable.

A thorough technical assessment by the UN on Bhashan Char is needed to figure out additional costs and challenges in running operations in two separate places efficiently, he added.

The government of Bangladesh invested more than US$ 350 million to develop the island. The 13,000-acre island, the government says, has all modern amenities, year-round fresh water, beautiful lake and proper infrastructure and enhanced facilities.

The Turkish Ambassador, however, said the relocation of Rohingyas should be made voluntary one and that the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement from December 4th highlights this aspect.

In the face of growing concerns over the extreme congestion in Cox's Bazar camps and to avert any risk of death due to landslides and other unwarranted incidents, the government of Bangladesh has decided to relocate, in phases, 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhashan Char.

Accordingly, in the first phase, more than 1,600 Rohingyas who expressed their willingness voluntarily for relocation were shifted to Bhashan Char on December 4.

Supporting The Gambia

The Turkish Ambassador said they are supporting The Gambia in regards to a case with the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

"It's an important international legal proceeding to hold perpetrators accountable," he said adding that repatriation is the best solution.

The Gambia filed a more than 500-page Memorial, which also includes more than 5000 pages of supporting material, in its lawsuit against Myanmar at the ICJ in The Hague, making its case for how the Government of Myanmar is responsible for genocide against Rohingya.

The Gambia urgently needs US$ 5 million to pay the lawyers while so far US$ 1.2 million has been raised through an OIC fund-raising campaign to support the legal battle.

Bangladesh is one of the contributors to the fund donating half a million US dollar. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Malaysia have also contributed to the fund so far.

Ambassador Turan said though there was a high expectation from Aung San Suu Kyi in her first term in the Myanmar government but she did not make any positive opening keeping the Rohingya repatriation deal unimplemented.

The repatriation deal signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh needs to be implemented to send back Rohingyas to their home in Myanmar, he said.

The envoy said Turkey knows by experience how difficult it is for a country to host a huge number of refugees. "In such a situation, the real leadership is required. Both of our governments have shown the real leadership in dealing with refugees," he said.

According to the UNHCR, there are approximately 3.2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Turkey also maintains a significant non-Syrian population. Of the non-Syrian population of protection-seekers in Turkey, about 44 percent are from Afghanistan, 42 percent are from Iraq, and 10 percent are from Iran.

Responding to a question on repatriation, he said conditions required for safe, dignified, sustainable and voluntary return of Rohingyas are yet to be created in Myanmar. "The situation is not ripe for repatriation. They cannot go back taking risk."

Earlier, repatriation attempts failed twice in November 2018 and August 2019 amid Rohingyas' lack of trust in the Myanmar government.

Turkish Support to Continue

The Turkish Ambassador has reiterated his country's continued support to the government of Bangladesh over the Rohingya issue.

Turkey was one of the first countries to establish presence in the Rohingya camps to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance since 2017.

Some of the Turkish agencies and NGOs have been operating in Bangladesh even before the crisis to support the implementation of the priorities set by the government of Bangladesh. Turkey also provides assistance to host communities in Cox's Bazar.

The Ambassador made a two-day visit to Cox's Bazar recently and saw the firsthand ongoing activities of humanitarian organisations of the Turkish government, namely TIKA, AFAD, Turkish Diyanet Foundation and Turkish Red Crescent.

He met new Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Shah Rezwan Hayat and Deputy Commissioner Md Kamal Hossain and discussed ways to intensify their dialogue and collaboration to deal with this ongoing humanitarian crisis.

The Turkish Ambassador visited the Field Hospital run jointly by AFAD and Turkish Ministry of Health, which provides medical treatment to over 1,000 patients both from the Rohingya and host communities on a daily basis.

During his visit, the Turkish Ambassador distributed micro-agriculture sets, met Rohingya children in a playground, and visited a Multipurpose Skills Development Centre, all of which have been implemented by TIKA.

He also received information about the humanitarian assistance projects such as community centres and health posts of Turkish Red Crescent, soap production and sewing ateliers of Turkish Diyanet Foundation.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017. On January 16, 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on "Physical Arrangement", which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.

Bangladesh thinks Rohingyas will "jeopardise regional and international security" if the 1.1 million Rohingya people are left unattended and not given the opportunity to return to their homeland.

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