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2007 Investment Climate Statement - Bangladesh

Openness to Foreign Investment Return to top

The stated policy of the government of Bangladesh (GOB) is to pursue foreign investment actively, and it has enacted a number of policies to this end. There are no distinctions between foreign and domestic private investors regarding investment incentives or export and import policies. Incentives for investors include: 100% ownership in most sectors; tax holidays; reduced import duties on capital machinery and spares; duty-free imports for 100% exporters; and tax exemptions (Board of Investment, Investment Incentives). There are few performance requirements, and these do not generally present a problem for foreign investors. Customs bonded warehouses assist exporters. Free repatriation of profits is allowed and is almost fully convertible on the current account. Although discrimination against foreign investors is not widespread, some discriminatory policies and regulations exist. For example, advertisements for imported products are assessed a 60% advertising surcharge for television spots on state-owned television. Licensing regulations issued in 2006 governing freight forwarding agents impose higher bonding and capital requirements on foreign-owned companies.

The immediate past parliamentary government's term expired in October, 2006. In accordance with the constitution, a Caretaker Government was formed to organize and hold elections within 90 days. In response to growing political instability and the threat of violence during the elections, the President of Bangladesh declared a State of Emergency under the constitution on January 11, 2007. The initial Caretaker Government resigned and was replaced by a new Caretaker Government. Elections scheduled for January 22 were canceled. The current Caretaker Government has pledged to create the conditions necessary for free, fair and credible elections and to hold elections as soon as possible; however, it had not announced a specific timeframe for elections as of January, 2007.

Major laws affecting foreign investment are the Foreign Private Investment (Promotion and Protection) Act, 1980, the Industrial Policy Act of 2005, the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority Act of 1980, the Companies Act, 1994, and the Telecommunications Act, 2001. Trade has gradually been liberalized over the past five years, although import duties and supplemental taxes remain high and constitute the largest single sources of government revenue.

The FY2004 budget reduced the maximum import duty rate by 5% to 25%. In the FY2007 budget, the government reduced the minimum duty rate to 5% instead of 6% and maximum duty rate to 25%. The FY2005 budget adjusted supplementary duty at four slabs on the imports of products of a general nature and the government continues to revise supplemental duty rates from time to time. See the section on Import Tariffs. The government’s fiscal year ends June 30th.

No prior approval is required for foreign direct investment (FDI) except registration with the Board of Investment (BOI). Registration with the BOI is necessary to obtain benefits such as importing machinery at concessionary duty rates or importing items on the "restricted list." The BOI also administers the approval of foreign loans and technology remittances on behalf of the Bangladesh Bank (the country's central bank). Authority within the government for dealing with foreign investments, however, is fragmented. BOI, frequently touted as a one-stop shop for all investors, is set up only to register investors in industrial projects outside the export processing zones (EPZs) and assist them with tax inquiries, land acquisition, utility hook-ups, and incorporation. The corresponding EPZ authority is the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA). Investors in infrastructure and natural resource sectors, including power, mineral resources and telecommunications must seek approval from the corresponding government ministries. Although the BOI is housed organizationally in the Prime Minister’s Office, regulatory and administrative powers remain vested in the line ministries, and thus the BOI has not proved to be an effective advocate for foreign investors.

Privatization is another critical part of the government's stated economic reform policy. After assuming power in 2001, the immediate past government prepared a list of 94 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) for privatization by the Privatization Commission (PC). The PC has privatized 30 SOEs since 2001. Apart from these, three large industries —the Adamjee Jute Mill, the country’s largest and most costly SOE, the Karnaphuli Chemical Mill, and the Chittagong Chemical Complex were closed and their assets (principally land) transferred to BEPZA for industrial development. The government privatized six additional industrial units in FY2005. For FY 2006 (ending June 30), the government had planned to privatize 16 additional SOEs but did not so. The PC is now working to complete these privatizations in FY2007. Biman Airlines tried to sell a controlling interest but could not find a willing partner due in part to the company's weak financial condition. The government has agreed to sell control of the state-owned Rupali bank to Saudi Arabian investors and is pursuing privatization of the other three state-owned commercial banks.

The government still resists privatizing utilities and opening critical sectors to full competition, although that is starting to change. Bangladesh allowed private investment in power generation and natural gas exploration, but efforts to grant autonomy in petroleum marketing and gas distribution have stalled. The government has significantly reduced its role in the provision of telecommunications services. Six private firms, each of which includes foreign investors, are licensed to provide cellular phone services. The government has granted approximately 40 public switched telephone network (PSTN) licenses to as many as 18 new private operators to provide telephone services. Only one of these firms is authorized to operate in the capital city. BTRC was preparing to conduct competitive bidding for the award of PSTN licenses to more companies to cover the Dhaka multi-exchange area, but the process is now on hold due to court proceedings among some PSTN companies and BTRC.

The government has selected a private firm to operate five new container berths at the Chittagong Port. Final award of the contract is suspended pending the outcome of litigation. The government has also selected a private firm to manage the Chittagong international airport; however, award of that contract also remains pending due to opposition from some existing operators, which led to renegotiation of the contract terms. Administrative approval of the production plan of a foreign owned open-cast coal mine in northwest Bangladesh has remained pending since November 2005 due to local opposition and political pressure from a private citizens' group that advocates adoption of a national coal policy before proceeding to authorize coal production at the mine.

According to central bank statistics, annual net FDI flows averaged $520.6 million from FY2002 - FY2005, with inflows rising significantly in FY 2004 ($776 million) and FY2005 (est. $675 million). According to the central bank, FDI inflows for the first six months of FY2007 are estimated to be $400 million.

The London-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in its 2006 report on "World Investment Prospects to 2010: Boom or Backlash?" projected that Bangladesh will rank 77th among the 82 countries surveyed in terms of possible FDI inflow during the 2006-2010 period. They added Bangladesh will receive a yearly average of US $600 million in FDI during the period between 2006 and 2010. The amount is only 0.05% of the world's total FDI share of $1.16-trillion. Among the South Asian nations, India and Pakistan were ranked 19th and 64th respectively while Sri Lanka was ranked 81st, four positions below Bangladesh.

Investors from the United States and from other countries, however, continue to show interest in Bangladesh. At the end of 2006, proposals for $10 billion in new FDI were at various stages of negotiation for projects in the power, mining, telecommunications, industrial, and transportation sectors. Investors report both positive and negative experiences. Two U.S. firms are pursuing investments in the power sector worth over $1 billion. Most of these projects were carried forward from 2005 and negotiations were generally inconclusive, in part because the government became increasingly focused on elections as it approached the end of its term in office (October, 2006). Several foreign business delegations have visited Bangladesh to explore trade and investment opportunities including Indian, French, Turkish, Malaysian, Taiwanese Chinese and Korean delegations.

Foreigners often find that ministries require unnecessary licenses and permissions. Added to these difficulties are such problems as an uncertain law and order situation, poor infrastructure, inadequate commercial laws and courts, inconsistent respect for contract sanctity, and policy instability (i.e., policies being altered at the behest of special interests, and decisions taken by previous governments being overturned when a new government comes to power). Authority and responsibility for decisions lacks transparency and government decisions frequently lack a clear rationale. Corruption remains a serious impediment to efficient business operations. In 2005, Transparency International for the fifth year in a row ranked Bangladesh last on its Corruption Perception Index. Bangladesh ranked 156 out of 163 countries in 2006.

To a lesser extent, difficulty in attracting foreign investment also results from Bangladesh's image as an impoverished and undeveloped country subject to frequent and devastating natural disasters. This is a partial misconception, as the annual floods, which inundate up to one-third of Bangladesh, are vital for agricultural production each year. Prior to political instability and warfare in the 1950s, Bangladesh had been one of the wealthiest regions in Asia and its land is still considered among the most fertile in the world.

Conversion and Transfer Policies Return to top

The official currency of Bangladesh is the taka. The Bangladesh Bank, the central bank of Bangladesh, does not fix the exchange rate of the taka against foreign currencies. Individual banks set their own buying and selling rates for foreign currency based on supply and demand. The taka is almost fully convertible for current account transactions, such as import trade and travel needs, but not for capital account transactions, such as investing or currency speculation. The Foreign Investment Act of 1980 guarantees the right of repatriation of invested capital, profits, capital gains, post-tax dividends, and approved royalties and fees. The central bank's exchange control regulations and the U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty (entered into force in 1989) provide similar investment transfer guarantees. In practice, foreign firms are able to repatriate funds without much difficulty, provided the appropriate documentation is in order. Foreign firms in joint ventures, which are only able to remit profits in the form of dividends, also report no difficulties. There are no specific restrictions on repatriation of capital gains in the Foreign Investment Act of 1980 or otherwise. The Board of Investment may need to approve repatriation of royalties and other technology transfer fees over 6% of sales.

Expropriation and Compensation Return to top

In the years immediately following independence in 1971, widespread nationalization resulted in government ownership of over 90% of fixed assets in the modern manufacturing sector, as well as all banking and insurance interests, except those in foreign (but non-Pakistani) hands. Domestically owned cotton textiles, jute, and sugar manufacturing units, none of which was owned by foreigners, were placed under government control. However, the Foreign Investment Act of 1980 has forbidden nationalization or expropriation without adequate compensation, and there have been no instances of foreign property expropriation since the Foreign Investment Act was passed.

Dispute Settlement Return to top

A fundamental impediment to investment in Bangladesh is a weak and slow legal system in which the enforceability of contracts is uncertain. The judicial system does not provide for interest to be charged in tort judgments, and hence there is no penalty for delaying proceedings. While the Supreme Court and High Court (appellate level courts) are independent, the lower courts are part of the executive branch of government. An interim government formed in January 2007 is undertaking the steps necessary to separate the lower courts from the executive branch; however, practical implementation could take more than a year to complete. It is widely acknowledged that in the lower courts, where cases are first brought, corruption is a serious problem. The highest levels of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, have had a reputation for fairness and competence; however, appointments to the court in 2005 were publicly criticized by many Bangladeshis as politically motivated.

Bangladesh is a signatory to the International Convention for the Settlement of Disputes (ICSID) and it acceded (on May 6, 1992) to the United Nations Convention for the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Bangladesh is also a party to the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Agreement for the Establishment of an Arbitration Council, signed November 13, 2005, which will establish a permanent alternative dispute resolution center in one of the SAARC member countries. A provision of the U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty permits submission of investment disputes to ICSID for third-party settlement.

The ability of the Bangladeshi judicial system to enforce its own awards is weak, and there is no reason to think enforcement of foreign judgments would be stronger. The Bangladesh Export Promotion Bureau is sometimes helpful in assisting in dispute settlement of export-related transactions. Major Bangladeshi trade and business associations can also be helpful in assisting in transaction disputes.

Many laws affecting investment in Bangladesh are old and outdated. Some of these laws have been amended, but many drafts of proposed new legislation produced by ad hoc government committees are more than 10 years old and themselves out of date. Resource constraints in the Law Ministry are a major problem. The insolvency laws, which apply mainly to individual insolvency, are not being used because of a web of falsified assets and uncollectible cross-indebtedness supporting insolvent banks and companies. A Bankruptcy Act was enacted in 1997 but has been ineffective in addressing the insolvency and cross-indebtedness problem of borrowers. It should be noted that one way companies have dealt with legal issues is by including a clause in arbitration agreements that allows for one of the parties to bring a dispute before another nation’s court. This practice is allowed under Bangladeshi law.

Dispute settlement is also hampered by shortcomings in accounting practices and the registration of real property. With the exception of those conducted by a few internationally affiliated accounting firms, audits of balance sheets and profit and loss statements often follow clients' instructions and fail to conform to international standards. Documents affecting title to real property are often not registered, complicating transfer of ownership and collateral agreements.

Performance Requirements and Incentives Return to top

The government’s industrial policies emphasize manufacturing and labor-intensive industries that use local inputs. There are a variety of subsidies and other incentives provided to different industrial sectors, primarily the export sectors and, to a certain extent, import substitution sectors. The government also provides loans at concessionary rates through its nationalized banks and government-owned development banks for exports, cottage industries, and agriculture. These incentives are available to both domestic and foreign investors.

There is a provision for full duty drawback at the time of export on imported raw materials used in manufacturing products for export. In lieu of the duty drawback, exporters can use the special bonded warehouse facility to import raw material duty-free. In order to qualify for the duty drawback and special bonded warehouse schemes, the exported item must have at least 25% domestic content. The government also provides direct subsidies to export-oriented ready-made garment manufacturers if their exports use 100% locally manufactured raw materials or have paid duty on imported raw materials. This cash incentive, designed to encourage “backward linkages” in the textile sector, amounts to 10% of the export value. A similar 5% export cash assistance incentive is available for jute and 15% for leather products. These incentives are designed to encourage exports with domestic content.

The government also provides a variety of tax incentives to selected sectors of the economy, including:

  • A 50% rebate for taxable income generated from export earnings.
  • Export earnings from handicrafts and cottage industries are exempted from income tax.
  • Tax holidays of five to seven years, depending on location, for new industrial enterprises in these sectors: textile, pharmaceuticals, melamine, plastic, ceramics, sanitary ware, iron and steel industries, fertilizer, insecticide and pesticide, computer hardware, petrochemicals, drug chemicals and pharmaceutical raw materials, agricultural equipment, shipyard, boiler and compressor, textile machineries, and infrastructure facilities. The tax holiday is expected to be available up to 2008.
  • A 10-year tax holiday for enterprises in the EPZs
  • Accelerated depreciation for enterprises not eligible for a tax holiday
  • Income tax exemption for 15 years for power projects

As of December 2006, the World Trade Organization was not reporting any notifications alleging Bangladeshi violations of the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures.

Right to Private Ownership and Establishment Return to top

Foreign and domestic private entities can establish and own, operate, and dispose of interests in most types of business enterprises. Four sectors, however, are reserved for government investment:

  • Arms and ammunitions and other military equipment and machineries
  • Production of nuclear power
  • Security printing and mining
  • Afforestation and mechanized extraction within the boundary of reserved forests

Although inefficient SOEs continue to stifle Bangladesh’s potential for greater economic performance, the closing of several enterprises shows that the government can take the necessary actions to push for overdue economic restructuring.

Protection of Property Rights Return to top

Although land, whether for purchase or lease, is often critical for investment and as security for loans, antiquated real property laws create significant legal uncertainty. Land registration records are unreliable. Parties avoid registering mortgages, liens, and encumbrances because certain stamp duties and charges have been set at high levels. Instruments take effect from the date of execution, not the date of registration, so a bona fide purchaser can never be certain of title.

The government is progressing slowly in bringing its intellectual property rights laws into compliance with the World Trade Organization’s Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. The government enacted a Copyright Law in July 2000, updating its copyright system and bringing the country’s copyright regime into compliance with TRIPS. The government is drafting legislation to implement its TRIPS obligations with respect to patents and design as well as trademarks. The Amendment of Trademark Act 1940 is undergoing interministerial substantive review. The draft Patent and Design Act is ready for legal review by the Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs. These amendments are intended to bring the country's intellectual property laws into fully compliance with WTO TRIPS requirements. Implementing regulations, however, must also be drafted.

The government allocates too few resources to IPR enforcement, and is experiencing a worsening IPR situation. The prevention and punishment of IPR violations is very low in proportion to the number of infringements. The government also sets a poor example by failing to account fully for software in its tenders. A number of American firms, including film studios, manufacturers of consumer goods, and software firms, have reported violations of their intellectual property rights. Some commercial establishments have adopted the trade name, trademarks and trade dress of U.S. businesses without authorization. Bangladesh is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and acceded to the Paris Convention on Intellectual Property in 1991.

Transparency of Regulatory System Return to top

Starting from a position of extreme over-regulation, the trend since 1989 has been a gradual decrease of governmental obstruction of private business. Many regulatory changes, however, have not yet been politically possible to implement. Although some civil servants and ministers have displayed genuine commitment, reforms face broad based resistance from many groups in the economy, including influential members of the business community. The official chambers of commerce include manufacturers in protected industries and well-connected commission agents pursuing government contracts. Chamber members call for a greater voice for the private sector in government decisions and for privatization, but at the same time many support protectionism and subsidies for their own industries.

Policy and regulations in Bangladesh are often not clear, consistent, or publicized. Generally, the civil service, businesses, professionals, trade unions and political parties have vested interests in a system in which confidentiality is used as an excuse for lack of transparency, and in which patron-client relationships are the norm. Businesses must always turn to civil servants to get action, yet may not receive any, even with the support of higher political levels. Traditionally, the country’s poorly paid civil servants have regarded business people as exploitative, and regard themselves as having a near monopoly on economic acumen and patriotism. Accounts from foreign investors of solicitation of bribes by public officials and politicians are common. Bangladesh's donors regard public administration reforms as central to overall economic reform.

In practice, government laws and regulations and their implementation do not reduce distortions or impediments to investment, but create them. Unhelpful treatment of businesses by some government officials, coupled with other negatives in the investment climate, raise startup and operational costs, add to risk, and tend to counteract the government's praiseworthy investment incentives. There is generally little opportunity for the private sector to comment on proposed regulations.

Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment Return to top

Foreign investors have access to local credit markets, but many seek offshore financing. If they finance locally, it is usually with a foreign bank branch. Four state-owned banks, known as nationalized commercial banks (NCBs), comprise a significant portion of the banking sector’s total assets. The largest NCB has assets totaling approximately $4.6 billion. An estimated 30% of the country’s total asset base is non-performing, primarily because of long-outstanding debts to the NCBs. The share of non-performing assets for private commercial banks ranges from two to eleven percent. The World Bank has approved a $250 million International Development Association (IDA) soft loan to Bangladesh for an ongoing enterprise growth and bank modernization project. As a part of the process, private management teams from international consulting firms have been put in charge of the four NCBs. One of the four is in the final stages of privatization.

The private sector can receive financing from leasing companies and by issuing shares or debentures on the Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) or the Chittagong Stock Exchange (CSE). All CSE-listed shares are also listed on the larger and older DSE. Among the world's smallest share markets, the privately-owned Dhaka Stock Exchange (established in 1954) lists 346 companies with a market capitalization of $4.5 billion; the Chittagong Stock Exchange (established in 1995) lists 213 with a market capitalization of $4.3 billion. Foreign portfolio investment, never more than $200 million, has virtually disappeared. Both the CSE (July 1998) and the DSE (August 1998) have automatic trading services.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was formed in 1993 to regulate the DSE and CSE and protect investors. In 1997, the SEC imposed new restrictions on the involvement of foreign investors in the Bangladesh capital market. The guidelines stipulate that 10% of primary issues are reserved for non-resident Bangladeshis. Major foreign investors have protested these measures. Foreign investors point out that this measure exacerbates the market’s greatest drawback: the difficulty of buying or selling in volume over a reasonably short period. The SEC and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Bangladesh have the task of enforcing reporting and audit requirements and bringing those requirements up to international standards.

Political Violence Return to top

Incidents of politically directed damage to foreign projects or installations have occurred, although violence targeted against business concerns generally has been isolated and criminal, rather than political, in nature. Following U.S. military action in Iraq, a number of sizeable anti-American demonstrations occurred (between 10,000 and 80,000 participants.) A few of these demonstrations resulted in minor property damage to U.S.- affiliated businesses. Calls for boycotts of American goods and services had limited impact and ended within a few months.

Extortion of money from businesses by thugs claiming political backing is common. Clashes between supporters of rival political parties and their student and youth wings and even factions within the same party are frequent occurrences. General strikes and blockades called by political parties mostly affect businesses by keeping workers away with the threat of violence and blocking transport, resulting in productivity losses. Vehicles and other property are at risk from vandalism or arson during such programs, and looting of shops has occurred.

Responding to public concern over law and order, the government in March 2004 authorized a special elite force, known as the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) as part of its anti-crime initiative. The RAB is comprised of members of the armed forces, the police, and the Bangladesh Rifles and Ansars, both paramilitary groups. The RAB became operational in June 2004 and has been credited by many Bangladeshis with improving domestic law and order. Soon after its formation, however, the local media began reporting on "crossfires." a euphemism for extrajudicial killings, particularly by the RAB. In 2006, law enforcement officials were responsible for 355 cases of deaths, 290 of which were attributed to crossfire. The RAB was responsible for 181 crossfire deaths; members of the police were responsible for 100; other security forces were responsible for nine crossfire deaths.

In February 2005 the government banned two extremist groups: Jama'atul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) and Jagroto Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB). On August 17, 2005, JMB, with the assistance of JMJB, exploded several hundred small, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in a coordinated attack in 63 of the 64 districts of Bangladesh. The devices were accompanied by leaflets demanding the establishment of Islamic law in Bangladesh. From September to early December 2005, JMB conducted several suicide attacks targeting local judges, courts and district government facilities. The government responded vigorously, arresting several high-ranking leaders of JMB and recovering detonators, explosives and related materials used to construct IEDs. As of December 2006, there had been no attacks by extremist groups on foreign diplomatic, commercial or social interests in Bangladesh.

Corruption Return to top

Corruption at all levels in the bureaucracy is rampant, and should be taken into account by foreign investors considering doing business in Bangladesh. The World Bank estimates that corruption exacts a toll of 2-3% on annual GDP growth each year. Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index has ranked Bangladesh as the most corrupt nation for five consecutive years (2001-2005) and ranked it 158 out of 163 countries in 2006. Local and foreign business persons often report their experiences with petty corruption, such as paying extra “fees” for obtaining government services (post office boxes, telephone lines, licenses, customs clearance). Complaints of higher-level corruption in the fair awarding of public and private tenders are frequent, as are allegations of insider trading in the stock market. In this regard, business people consider Bangladesh Customs to be among the worst, a thoroughly corrupt organization in which officials routinely exert their power to influence the tariff value of imports and to expedite or delay import and export processing at the ports. A mandatory pre-shipment inspection system of import valuation was introduced in 2001 to help reduce discretionary power of customs officials and lower costs and improve efficiency at Bangladesh’s trade entry points. However, Bangladeshi Customs officials are often the first to point out that the valuation system remains weak.

The Bangladesh Anti-Corruption Bureau (BAC) was well known as an ineffective body due to reported corruption among its officials and lack of independence from the political authorities. Parliament passed legislation in February 2004 to create the Independent Anti-Corruption Commission of Bangladesh (ACC), which was formally established in November 2004. Provisionally staffed with all of the employees of its predecessor organization, the ACC was embroiled in controversy within a few weeks of its formation. It remains an ineffective organization two years after its establishment.

Bilateral Investment Agreements Return to top

The Foreign Investment Act includes a guarantee of national treatment. National treatment is also provided in bilateral treaties for the promotion and protection of foreign investment. Treaties have been signed with: the United States, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, France, Germany, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Switzerland, Thailand, The Netherlands, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan. The U.S.-Bangladesh Bilateral Investment Treaty, signed on March 12, 1986, entered into force on July 23, 1989.

A bilateral treaty between the United States and Bangladesh for the avoidance of double taxation was signed on September 26, 2004 and ratified by the United States on March 31, 2006. The parties exchanged Instruments of ratification on August 7, 2006. The treaty is effective for most taxpayers beginning in their 2007 tax year.

OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs Return to top

The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation provides insurance coverage for some U.S. firms currently doing business in Bangladesh. In recent years, government authorities have been cooperative in approving requests for OPIC insurance. OPIC and the government signed an updated bilateral agreement in May 1998. Bangladesh is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency.

The Export-Import Bank of the U.S. (ExIm Bank) is an independent U.S. government agency that helps finance the overseas sales of U.S. goods and services. It provides export credit insurance policies to cover political and commercial risk, and loan guarantees to banks for medium and long-term loans. In Bangladesh, only the Bangladesh Government is eligible for ExIm Bank cover with a sovereign guarantee. The bank does not lend or provide cover to private enterprises in Bangladesh purchasing U.S. exports except in the following case: ExIm Bank can provide a guarantee to the lender to enable a private firm to buy U.S. products to construct a processing facility whose output will be sold offshore for hard currency where such funds can be captured offshore.

Labor Return to top

Bangladesh has a population of about 144 million people. The labor force is 65.5 million people, with 63% working in the agricultural sector, 11% in industry and the remaining 26% in the services sector. Low official unemployment statistics obscure a huge and growing under-employment problem in Bangladesh. Bangladesh's comparative advantage in cheap labor for manufacturing is partially offset by low productivity, due to low skills, poor management, and inefficient infrastructure and machinery. Foreign managers report that Bangladeshi workers generally respond well to training.

Skilled Bangladeshis often seek and find employment in the Middle East and East Asia at substantially higher wages than they would receive in Bangladesh. Over the past 20 years, Bangladesh has become a reliable source of labor. Expatriate workers remitted over $4.8 billion in foreign exchange to Bangladesh in FY2006 through official banking channels. Remittances have become an important source of foreign exchange in recent years, and now exceed aid provided in the form of concessionary loans and grants.

All employers are expected to comply with the government's labor laws, which specify employment conditions, working hours, wage levels, leave policies, health and sanitary conditions, and compensation for injured workers. Freedom of association and the right to join unions is guaranteed in the Bangladesh Constitution. There are over 6,400 registered trade unions in Bangladesh, with over 1.9 million union members.

In July 2004, the Bangladesh parliament enacted a law granting limited freedom of association rights in the export processing zones. Workers of the industrial units are allowed to form a welfare council to develop and grow into organizations, defending their welfare through collective bargains, according to the law. As of November, 2006, workers are permitted to form unions at firms located in the export processing zones.

Bangladesh’s labor unions, most of them associated with political parties, can be militant. Violence and the threat of violence by some trade unions have produced wage increases in excess of productivity increases, raising unit labor costs. Worker layoffs, or the mere threat of reductions-in-force, can be expected to cause some of the most serious and confrontational labor disputes. Labor disputes do not necessarily need to be heard before a legal court. Many companies have found it effective to resolve issues before a Labor Tribunal. Labor in private sector enterprises is mostly not unionized and comparatively more productive. Productivity in Bangladesh has been affected by hartals (general strikes) called by political parties and movements. These hartals, enforced by political activists, essentially close down business throughout the country and raise the cost of doing business in Bangladesh due to the downtime they impose on commercial activity.

Bangladeshi laws do not uniformly prohibit the employment of children or set a minimum age for employment. Numerous laws prohibit child labor in certain sectors, ranging from transport workers to tea plantation labor, but these have not addressed the informal sectors, such as agriculture and domestic work, where the majority of children are employed. As a result, child labor in Bangladesh has historically been a fact of life. On July 4, 1995, Bangladesh’s garment exporters association signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) under which child laborers in the EPZ textile factories were removed and enrolled in education programs. ILO-assisted monitoring teams, which found child laborers in 43% of EPZ factories in 1996, found fewer than 5% in 2001. The MOU program has been phased out, and the U.S. Embassy considers the project a success, with most child labor now eradicated from the EPZs. Child labor laws outside of the EPZs are not effectively enforced. Bangladesh, however, is working to comply with ILO conventions on child labor in an effort to eradicate child labor in all sectors.

Foreign-Trade Zones/Free Ports Return to top

Under the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority Act of 1980, the government established an EPZ in Chittagong in 1983. Additional EPZs now operate in Dhaka (Savar), Mongla, Ishwardi, Comilla, and Uttara. In addition, two new EPZs are being established: Karnaphuli EPZ (Chittagong) and Adamjee EPZ (Dhaka). A private EPZ reserved for Korean investors has been set up in Chittagong, but is waiting for final licenses to be issued.

Investments that are 100% foreign-owned, joint ventures and 100% Bangladeshi-owned companies are all permitted to operate and enjoy equal treatment in the EPZs. In terms of investment, employment and exports, the country’s EPZs have been extremely successful. Due to increased demand by investors, the government has doubled the capacity of the Dhaka EPZ. Investors seem generally satisfied, although there has been occasional labor unrest associated with the introduction of workers associations in the EPZs.

Approximately a dozen U.S. firms — mostly textile producers — are currently operating in Bangladesh EPZs. South Korea is the largest foreign investor in the Dhaka and Chittagong EPZs; Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Germany, Taiwan, China, U.A.E., France, Italy, Denmark, Panama and Pakistan are the other foreign investors in the EPZs. The remaining EPZ industries are Bangladeshi. The U.S. is the top destination of exports from EPZs. Industries range from garments and textiles to electronics, sporting goods, steel chains, and services (including equipment leasing and container repairs and handling).

Foreign Direct Investment Statistics Return to top

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) World Investment Report 2006, total inward foreign direct investment to Bangladesh was $692 million in 2005, a 50% increase over figures for 2004. Outward foreign direct investment flows were negligible. UNCTAD estimates the stock of inward foreign direct investment was $3.5 billion in 2005. UNCTAD figures show that the stock of inward direct investment grew 62% from 2000 to 2005.

UNCTAD reports the following annual FDI inflows (in millions) for Bangladesh:

(Annual Average)










According to UNCTAD, the stock of inward FDI was:

2000 - $2,162 million

2004 - $3,098 million

2005 - $3,508 million

Figures from the Bangladesh Bank (the central bank) show total net FDI flows (in millions) for the fiscal years 2002-2005 (ending June 30) as follows:











Note: discrepancies with UNCTAD data reflect calendar year versus fiscal year accounting. UNCTAD figures show FDI inflows; central bank figures are for net FDI.

There are no reliable figures in Bangladesh on country-specific stocks or flows of foreign direct investment. Studies by various organizations rank the U.S. among the five largest foreign investors in Bangladesh, together with Norway, Malaysia, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The second tier of investors is Singapore, India, Thailand, Hong Kong, Germany, and South Korea. U.S. investment in Bangladesh includes power and energy companies, numerous manufacturers, a life insurance company, banking operations of a U.S. commercial bank, and various U.S. services and marketing firms.

Web Resources Return to top

Bangladesh Bank

Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA)

Board of Investment - Bangladesh

Export-Import Bank of the United States (EX-IM)

Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC)

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U.S. exporters seeking general export information/assistance or country-specific commercial information should consult with their nearest Export Assistance Center or the U.S. Department of Commerce's Trade Information Center at (800) USA-TRADE, or go to the following website: http://www.export.gov

To the best of our knowledge, the information contained in this report is accurate as of the date published. However, The Department of Commerce does not take responsibility for actions readers may take based on the information contained herein. Readers should always conduct their own due diligence before entering into business ventures or other commercial arrangements. The Department of Commerce can assist companies in these endeavors.

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