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Unlocking the Economic Potential of Bangladesh

Portrait of Abdullah Ishak Khan

Deputy Project Director

Key Takeaways

  • Abdullah Ishak Khan is a lifelong learner who acts as a liaison between the Japanese government and the government of his home country, Bangladesh.

  • Currently, Khan is the Deputy Project Director of the Infrastructure Development Project of Japanese Economic Zone at BEZA (Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority).

  • He is uniquely qualified for the job because he has previously worked with Japanese employers in the private sector and also spent two years completing his General MBA from Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, Japan.

  • Being the fastest-growing economy in the Asia-Pacific region, Abdullah believes that Bangladesh will become a developed country by the year 2041.

A Journey of Lifelong Learning

Abdullah Ishak Khan is a proud Bangladeshi currently serving as the Deputy Project Director of the Infrastructure Development Project of Japanese Economic Zone (IDPJEZ) at Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority, Prime Minister’s Office (BEZA). He also received the renowned MEXT scholarship in 2022 under the Young Leader’s Program. The MEXT scholarship is a prestigious program that promotes mutual understanding and friendly ties between Japan and other countries. He completed an MBA program through this scholarship at Hitotsubashi University Business School in Tokyo, Japan. Mr. Khan is a lifelong learner who has been to various parts of the world to seek knowledge, including Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and his home country of Bangladesh.

Economic Ties Between Japan and Bangladesh

When asked about the considerations he had in mind for selecting his destination for an MBA degree, Abdullah says there were countless reasons why he chose Japan for his MBA. His primary reason being the strong economic connection between Bangladesh and Japan. Japan was not only one of the first countries to recognize the People’s Republic of Bangladesh but also fostered strong economic relations with the country since its independence. Bangladesh is one of Japan's largest recipients of economic assistance, having received approximately $25 billion in developmental and economic assistance since 1972.

As of 2022, the two countries have signed an Agreement on Technical Cooperation, further strengthening their mutual cooperation. Making it possible for Bangladeshi nationals to seek technical training in Japan and Japanese experts to travel to Bangladesh to conduct surveys, among other forms of technical cooperation. Including providing equipment, machinery, and materials to Bangladesh for better infrastructure development. So, the decision for Mr. Khan to travel to Japan for his MBA was an easy choice as he saw it as an opportunity to explore the potential of building government-to-government economic zones between the two countries.

“We all know the quality and efficiency of the Japanese. It originates from a culture of discipline. I believe the moment we get disciplined in our personal lives is when we begin to replicate similar behavior in the workplace.” — Abdullah Ishak Khan

Abdullah’s previous experience working with a Japanese apparel retailer, Uniqlo, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, also influenced the decision. In his close interaction with the Japanese during this job, he was impressed by their extreme dedication to hard work and ethics when it comes to their job. So he jumped on the MEXT opportunity to learn more about the third largest economy in the world and the people who got it there.

The Rising Economy of Bangladesh

Upon returning from Japan, Abdullah started working at the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA) at the Prime Minister’s Office, specifically as the Deputy Project Director of the Infrastructure Development Project of Japanese Economic Zone (DPJEZ). Within this government-to-government assigned role, his primary task is to create economic zones throughout Bangladesh to cater to international investors who want to invest in the country’s economy. These investments go into various infrastructure development programs for electricity, water, roads, gas, security, etc. Although BEZA is open to investors worldwide, including Canada, the USA, and the United Kingdom, Abdullah’s job is to ensure that Bangladesh’s Economic Zone is always ready for Japanese investments to come in and seamlessly assimilate into the relevant economic zone projects.

“Bangladesh and its 170 million Bangladeshis are ready for change. BEZA is open to investors around the world. We have investors from Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, the USA, Australia, and even all the way from South American countries. ” — Abdullah Ishak Khan

Bangladesh is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with an astonishing GDP growth rate of 7.2% in 2022, post-global pandemic. According to Mr. Khan, a couple of reasons make his country an excellent place for foreign investments. One of the major reasons is the large human capital available in Bangladesh. Out of the 170 million population of the country, 65.6 percent comes under the working age. This abundance of human resources plays a big role in attracting investors from different countries.

Another reason is Bangladesh’s superior road, waterways, and train systems, which are better than most other countries in the South Asian region. The infrastructure and the human capital potential encourage international investors to set up manufacturing plants in the country. The prime geographic location of Bangladesh also comes into play as it is close to two of the world’s major economies, China and India.

Economic Zones in Bangladesh

According to Abdullah, BEZA is currently working on six different categories of economic zones. First are the public and private partnership (PPP) economic zones established by local or foreign organizations. Second, non-resident Bangladeshis or foreign investors, business organizations, or groups establish private economic zones. Third, the government economic zones are established and owned by the government of Bangladesh. Fourth, the special economic zones are established privately or by public-private partnership through government initiatives to establish a specialized industry or commercial organization. Fifth, the government-to-government economic zones (G2G) developed between the government of Bangladesh and other governments like Japan. Sixth are called economic zones, which are established in collaboration with government authorities and organizations.

An example of the G2G economic zone is the Bangladesh Special Economic Zone, which is jointly developed by the governments of Japan and Bangladesh, with over 1000 acres of land in Bangladesh’s Araihazar, Narayanganj. The development plans in Narayanganj include constructing a gas line from Haripur to Narayanganj, canals to avoid waterlogging, and a 230kV substation, among other construction plans. BEZA expects an investment of $1.5 billion from Japanese companies like Lion Corp, Onoda, and Nikka Chemical in this particular economic zone. At the same time, twenty-two other companies have also expressed interest in investing. They also expect the employment of over 100,000 Bangladeshi workers in this particular zone.

Incentives for Investors in Bangladesh’s Economy

Mr. Khan also pointed out the many incentives and cuts the Bangladesh government provides for foreign investors. The Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) offers major incentives, including corporate income tax (CIT) exemptions, import duty exemptions, and accelerated depreciation allowances. Abdullah also mentions that Bangladesh’s Capital Repatriation Act allows full repatriation of investments and dividends for all foreign investors who choose to invest in Bangladesh, allowing for greater investor confidence in the region.

All six economic zone categories offer significant incentives to their investors, from bonded warehouse facilities and tax havens to one-stop-service-center facilities and no stamp duties. For instance, huge tax incentives exist for importing cars and using economic zones within Bangladesh. These incentives allow for more economic zones to be created and a higher inflow of investments into the country.

Abdullah mentions that an economic zone can be built from scratch within 3-4 years with such incentives. For example, such a process with the Japanese government would begin with handing over a few hundred acres of land to their government. The Japanese government would then hand over the land to different Japanese industry investors, who will set up their manufacturing facilities in the area and begin production as soon as construction is completed.

The Promising Future of Bangladesh

Abdullah Ishak Khan shares that BEZA’s future targets include establishing one hundred special economic zones in Bangladesh by 2030. Ninety-seven of these have already been approved and established, with 68 government economic zones and 29 private economic zones. The goal is to create industries within these zones that will contribute upwards of $40 billion in additional exports and generate 10 million jobs for Bangladeshis by 2041.

The government of Bangladesh also aims to become a developed nation by 2041, with a critical focus on three areas: increasing GDP contribution from different industries, raising income per capita from the current $2,600 to $12,000, and reducing poverty levels. Infrastructure development projects near completion, such as an underwater tunnel in the Chittagong region, new airports, and a nuclear power plant to mitigate the energy crisis, will also play a key role in achieving this target. On the other hand, Bangladesh is committed to achieving the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) as well, including but not limited to clean water and sanitation, zero hunger, gender equality, and more. Abdullah Ishak Khan believes that the key player in achieving all these future goals is the country's human capital.

“The 170 million population of Bangladesh offers 170 million chances for you to form a connection here in our country. For any government, organization, or investor looking to invest in Bangladesh, remember that you will have the support of each one of our 170 million people.” — Abdullah Ishak Khan


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