A top-level visit from Turkey to Bangladesh in the coming months is expected to unravel a wide range of opportunities in bilateral relations, boosting, trade, investment, and understanding.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Bangladesh Ambassador in Ankara Mosud Mannan said he has been working to materialize the visit soon.
He reminded that top diplomats of both countries have already announced that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may travel to Dhaka in March if the COVID-19 situation remains under control.
Explaining preparations for the high-level visit as well as its significance for Ankara and Dhaka, the envoy expressed optimism to double the current bilateral trade volume worth $1 billion within the next two-three years.
He said the strong desire from top politicians and businesspeople of both countries will help to achieve this goal.
The envoy also highlighted further areas of cooperation in the defense, construction, tourism, and education sectors, while urging for more Turkish investment in Bangladesh.
Appreciating Turkey’s support to the Rohingya issue, he also sought backing to convince Myanmar to take the displaced people back and rehabilitate them within its own borders.
Admitting that language is a barrier between two countries to develop more understanding at people and small business level, Mannan opined about the importance of introducing Bangla language in few Turkish universities.
Anadolu Agency: Over the past few years bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Turkey have shown a lot of progress. What is now new in the menu, as we begin the new year?
Mosud Mannan: Yes, the relation between these two very friendly countries, Bangladesh and Turkey, has improved a lot. It has become deep. As a result of the prudent decision of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder President of Bangladesh to take part in the OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] Summit of 1974, Turkey and many Muslim countries of the world recognized Bangladesh. Over the years, we have developed more business and investment between our two countries, plus political understanding. You can easily see from the way President Erdogan stood behind the displaced Rohingyas, who came to Bangladesh from Myanmar in big numbers in August 2017.
Then, Turkish First Lady Emine Erdogan also visited Bangladesh with the foreign minister. So, this immediate response to the call of the day shows how close Turkey is with Bangladesh at present. If you consider the present total volume of trade between our two friendly countries, you will also see it has gone up. And we already have a desire to have more trade in the coming years, of course, after the substantial decrease of the pandemic. So, these are the things to take into consideration. Also, there are many issues in different international fora where Bangladesh and Turkey support each other.
Enormous significance of Erdogan’s visit
Q: There was talk of a high-level visit. What are the plans being made and what could we expect as the major takeaway from such a visit? I am referring to reports of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s official visit to Bangladesh in March. How significant will be this visit to both Bangladesh and Turkey?
Mannan: Of course, the significance of the visit will be enormous. It will open up many more opportunities to tap potentials yet untapped in the coming years and build political understanding and business. But first of all, let me tell you, our new embassy complex was inaugurated on Sept. 14, 2020, even despite pandemics in the presence of the foreign ministers of both countries — Turkey and Bangladesh. Our foreign minister, Dr. AK Abdul Momen, despite coronavirus, flew to Ankara.
And on the other side, you can see that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took great interest to be present online to inaugurate this new complex showing due respect to the history and the people of Turkey.
So, on that day, and after that day, the discussion had already started for the visit of President Erdogan to Bangladesh. From last year we have been observing the birth centenary of our founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, which will continue up to the end of December 2021. Moreover, this year — 2021– is also the golden jubilee of our independence. So, we are expecting high-level dignitaries from different countries to visit Bangladesh during the celebrations in 2021.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already conveyed an invitation to the president of Turkey to come and be part of the celebrations in Dhaka city in coming March. And President Erdogan already told our foreign minister last September that if the pandemic situation improves, he surely will be in Bangladesh. And when I presented my credentials on Dec. 15, 2020, President Erdogan reiterated his intention to visit Bangladesh to me and my delegation at the presidential palace.
More recently, when the Foreign Minister of Turkey went to Bangladesh to inaugurate Turkey’s new chancery building in Dhaka, he also expressed confidence that inshallah the visit will take place, as discussed before, in the coming March. So, we are very hopeful that this very important visit — which will open up more understanding, business, cultural exchange and many other opportunities still untapped between our two friendly countries which are historically very close for more than a thousand years — will take place.
And I am very much looking forward to having the visit soon. And in preparation, I have started visiting not only ministries but also other relevant agencies, universities, organizations including the Anadolu Agency. All in preparation with the expectation of materializing the visit in March this year.
Doubling bilateral trade
Q: The bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Turkey was less than $1 billion as per figures issued last year. But there was a consensus to increase it to $3 billion. How realistic is this figure and when it will be achieved and which sectors will take lead to achieve this goal?
Mannan: First of all, let me make the correction. Because when I met President Erdogan on Dec. 15 last year, he mentioned the target as two billion not three. And two billion is not an impossible figure to reach, since even during corona [COVID-19] time if we can have almost one billion dollar worth of trade, with more effort we can inshAllah have two billion in the near future. We are expecting more investment to come to Bangladesh from Turkey as it had already started with the Koc group a few years back.
Defense cooperation between the two countries has been growing. Very recently there was another agreement. So, we expect it to grow further and add to the volume. And we will, as I just mentioned at the beginning of the interview, we will tap into unexplored potentials. We will think out of the box. And we will consider new commodities to be exported or imported between the two countries resulting in an increase in the trade volume. So, it is not impossible. Maybe it will take not one year because still pandemic is going on. But beginning from 2021 within two or three years, I am absolutely sure, a $2 billion target can be attained. If the officials as well as the business people, and politicians, the leaders of the two countries are determined, it is certainly possible for our two countries to achieve the goal.
Turkey already has a good position in world business. And Bangladesh is at present one of the first five fastest-growing economies. So, for us, if Allah Subhanahu Wataala allows and the pandemic decreases substantially to a tolerable level I am sure within the next two to three years, we will be able to attain this target.
Q: But there are complaints from some business people. Sometimes they complain about some type of difficulties while trying to do business and investment in Bangladesh. What are the obstacles to developing trade, investment, and other relations rapidly? What else can be done? Is there any progress in signing a preferential trade agreement with Turkey? And what this will mean for business and investments?
Mannan: As far I know, there are not many big obstacles because already even big Bangladesh companies like Walton, are doing business with Turkey. They are from the private sector of Bangladesh. There are many more organizations or business houses in Bangladesh, who are also interested and have already contacted the embassy, showing similar interest. On Feb. 3, 2021, between Turkey’s DEIK [Foreign Economic Relations Board], and Bangladesh’s FBCCI [Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries] a new agreement has been signed for further cooperation.
FBCCI is the largest body representing all the chambers of commerce and industries in Bangladesh. So, when we are getting them formally involved in Turkey-Bangladesh business cooperation, I do not think there will be any big obstacles in the coming days. Recently we also had a webinar on this issue between DEIK and FBCCI at the initiative of the Bangladesh Investment Development Agency (BIDA) where all the related agencies in Bangladesh, important agencies related to investment and business cooperation were present at the highest level. I was also there with the ambassador of Turkey to Bangladesh. I do not think we have big challenges. Small challenges depending on the need of a specific business company might be there which through discussion and negotiation we will overcome.
Talking about FTA [Free Trade Agreement] or PTA [Preferential Trade Agreement]. I think for the time being we will go for PTA and then when the situation will be more favorable between the two countries inshallah FTA will be there. To attain this target we have also started meeting. In 2019, there was a Joint Economic Commission meeting here in Turkey. And inshallah in 2021, in Dhaka, if the situation improves, we will again have a meeting in the middle of the year. We are currently discussing and finalizing the date.
Introducing Bangla language in Turkish universities
To promote business and economic cooperation, we are trying to introduce Bangla [language courses] in one or two universities [in Turkey]. So, businesses who are interested to have their executives — junior and mid-level — may consider knowing Bangla, which will indeed be helpful when they go to Dhaka to negotiate business and to do business. And finally, to translate our business documents and also have our marketing in each other’s language.
When Turkey will try to sell something in Bangladesh in big numbers, they should also try to promote it in the languages that we understand. And we will also try to do the same when we want to sell something here in Turkey. Through advertisements in each other’s languages, we can easily reach the people of the two countries. We have to also understand their psyche very well. Business is a competitive thing. It is not so easy, similar things are produced by different countries. But the way you present it, and the language you use, surely makes the difference.
Q: Around 600 Bangladeshi citizens are currently studying in Turkey? This is a very small number for a country of 165 million population. What kind of initiative should be taken to increase this?
Mannan: You have touched my favorite area. Students and the younger generation. Yes, I have already visited several universities and in the coming days, I will visit more. This week I went to the Bilkent University and Gazi University in Ankara and next I am planning to visit Hacettepe University which is famous for its medical school. It will be fantastic to have a greater number of [Bangladeshi] students in medical science because Turkey is very famous for providing quality health services.
So, I will like to have more students. Our Foreign Minister is also very much interested in this regard. He has already expressed his interest that more students should come from Bangladesh to study in Turkey, not only go to the West. When I discussed this matter with the foreign minister of Turkey after the presentation of my credential, he also told me: ‘Not only that we will have more students from your country, we are eager to send some students [to Bangladesh] too.
Turkey and Bangladesh should have an exchange program in education, both for teachers and students. And my idea is also to have joint research projects. It will be a good initiative because in some fields Turkey has its expertise and, in some fields, we have our expertise. Since at the highest level both countries are interested, now through universities and relevant agencies we can have more scholarships. And at the same time encourage young people who can afford it, to study in different universities of Turkey and Bangladesh.
So, if we can have more scholarships, a greater number of scholarships with the agencies that you [Turks] have in this country, you have several agencies, not only one, who provide scholarships, then we can place more students in good universities all over Turkey, it will be great. From 600 students, maybe in two years, it will become a thousand.
So, I am very hopeful [in this regard] with the support of the media. The media of Bangladesh and Turkey should cooperate with the embassy to promote the idea of more Bangladesh students coming and studying in Turkey. And also, in response, some from Turkey should also feel attracted with the help of Anadolu Agency and other media to go and see the potentials of the universities in Bangladesh and learn the Bangla language.
We should not forget Bangla is the seventh most spoken language in the world.
Bengali is spoken by more than 270 million people. And our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has proposed Bangla to become the seventh official language of the UN. We also should not forget that Bengali people laid down their lives on 21 February in 1952 [during the language movement]. Several people from Dhaka University and Dhaka city died.
And in 1999 UNESCO recognized our historic day of Feb. 21 as the International Mother Language Day. This is a very special day in the history of Bangladesh for promoting the Bangla language throughout the world while also showing due respect towards every country’s mother language.
Scope in defense sector
Q: What is the scope in the relations in the defense sector as Turkey’s defense industries are booming faster and producing quality equipment? What kind of cooperation we can expect in this regard?
Mannan: Bangladesh appreciates Turkey’s development in the field of defense. Over the years, we have been importing different items from Turkey. You [Turkey] are doing very well when you talk about the manufacturing of drones, the quality of the drone manufactured by Turkey is world-class. So, we can consider in future of having modern equipment as per need of our defense forces.
Training is very important for the armed forces. Our Army, Navy, and Air Force members also benefit from the quality training programs of Turkey. In return, we also receive officers of their [Turkish] forces, for training and seminars held in Bangladesh.
Understanding in the field of defense through the exchange of visits at the highest level by the chiefs of the three armed forces of Bangladesh and Turkey are taking place regularly.
When we talk about defense cooperation we should also consider the help you receive at the hour of need. Recently when there was a big blast in Lebanon, one of our naval ships was damaged and we got immediate help from the Turkish government to repair it and then sent it back to Bangladesh. It was indeed a great assistance extended by Turkey to Bangladesh
Moreover, Turkey and Bangladesh can collaborate in the field of capacity building.
From the Bangladesh side, we can share our rich experience as the number one country in providing UN peacekeepers all over the world. And Turkey among others may assist us in providing relevant members of the Bangladesh Armed Forces with training in medical services for which they have a great reputation.
Cooperation in aerospace
Q: Bangladesh has recently launched an aerospace university. And Turkey already has significantly developed the aerospace industry. Is there any possibility to have cooperation and joint mechanism in this particular sector?
Mannan: When I mentioned at the beginning of this interview on the VVIP visit, I hinted that there will be many untapped potentials, which will be explored as a result of the visit. This is one of the things which can also be discussed during President Erdogan’s visit. Inshallah, when the visit will take place, this thing will also be on the table.
When I visited one of the universities in Turkey, they told me: ‘Mr. ambassador, specialized courses on aviation science and naval science will be very useful for the students in your country.’ So, we may also discuss all these subjects related to aviation, naval or marine science along with molecular biology, space science, at the appropriate time at the highest level.
Q: The Turkish construction industry is very strong worldwide just after China as said by the Turkish foreign minister during his recent tour to Dhaka. He also said that this industry is interested to invest in Bangladesh. How do you consider Turkish interest in investing in the construction sector in Bangladesh?
Mannan: This is another very pertinent question. Yes, there is ample opportunity [in Bangladesh]. And Turkey is already taking part in different tenders to join the construction industry in Bangladesh. Construction, especially building roads, highways, bridges is booming in Bangladesh, thanks to its fast-growing economy. Besides China, other countries are most welcome to engage in the building industry of Bangladesh. When I presented my credential only one and a half months ago, even from that time business people have started coming to the embassy with different business proposals, including construction. They are showing interest [in this sector]. Some of them have already participated in some tenders, and they want to participate in more. And I am not talking about one company. At the same time, they need also some collaboration with companies in Bangladesh to help each other. There are companies in Bangladesh that are interested to help their Turkish counterparts. So, I see a very good opportunity for Turkey to come and work in this particular sector, in the very near future side by side with other countries.
Collaboration in the tourism sector
Q: Bangladesh has the world’s longest sea beach and the world’s largest mangrove forest. So, the prospect of Bangladesh in the tourism sector is very high. Turkey has already turned into a hub of international tourists. Does Bangladesh have any plan to work in a joint venture with Turkey in the tourism sector?
Mannan: Unfortunately, the tourism sector, as well as a hotel business — two sectors which are related to each other –, are suffering the most as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But we can train up each other’s travel agents and tour operators and during this pandemic time using online opportunities, like organizing webinars to be able to face the new normal situation after the decrease of the pandemic.
The way Turkey operates to promote their tourism business, maybe we can learn from their promotional activities how to get more tourists to visit Bangladesh. As I told you, even we can prepare brochures in different languages.
I think the main thing is good marketing. To know about what is in the offer, hotel facilities, nice places to visit, interesting food to taste very friendly people to meet in both the countries.
Q: Ankara has been supporting Dhaka on the Rohingya refugee issue from the very beginning of the crisis since August 2017. What are Bangladesh’s expectations from Turkey on this issue? What is the future plan for Rohingya?
Mannan: Actually, their real number will be almost 1.4 million. Because Rohingya started coming to Bangladesh at the end of the 1970s. And then it continued. But at that time the number was not one million. All of a sudden from Aug. 25, 2017, the numbers of displaced Rohingyas from several hundred thousands jumped up drastically. Out of this million-plus Rohingya, we are in the process of sending 100,000 to one island called Bhasan Char. And we have already prepared very good shelters with the required facilities.
So, the first thing that we want from all friendly countries is regular financial assistance for these displaced Rohingyas as well as other relief materials, and of course, more political support, like Turkey has been providing from the beginning. I am talking about August 2017, Turkey was there to convince the Myanmar authority that it will be best to keep them in their own country, from where they came.
The repatriation negotiations should be done in a more forceful manner. Turkey always helped us by supporting our stand. They have been fulfilling their commitment towards raising the issue not only in OIC but at the UN and other agencies as well. Gambia at the International Court of Justice has started a case. Turkey and other friendly countries are also sometimes giving assistance to carry out the legal process.
Role of NGOs
Now in the world, besides governments of different countries, there are NGOs that can also play a significant role, positive role. In the case of Turkey, we know, some of the NGOs are also active in Bangladesh. Some relief materials have gone through your NGOs to Bangladesh. These things should also continue. Because remember 1.4 million [displaced Rohingyas], like the 4 million [Syrian] refugees here are also a big number. So, you [Turks] already have your own experience, you can already feel for human sufferings. So, this kind of activity should continue. Otherwise, it is difficult to make the Myanmar authority and the people understand how serious the issue is for the displaced Rohingya people, as well as for a country like Bangladesh, which already has its own big population, to carry the burden.
Q: There are reportedly several thousands of undocumented Bangladeshis in Turkey and Ankara has been working to reach out a solution with Dhaka to send them back to Bangladesh. Even the Turkish interior minister had planned a visit to Bangladesh earlier last year. Is there any progress on it?
Mannan: For these Bangladeshis embassy does whatever is prescribed as per government rules. If they want to go back, we provide them with travel documents. If needed, we involve IOM [International Organization for Migration]. For them, we do what is prescribed because as you said they are undocumented. At the same time, if they need some help with daily necessities we request IOM and other agencies who are involved in this kind of issue. Moreover, we encourage them to obey the law of the country [Turkey].
To ensure more favorable support from the Government of Turkey for these undocumented people, I have already sought an appointment with the honorable Interior Minister. Inshallah, I will meet him in February. Without having a first-hand discussion, I can’t answer you more elaborately.
Focus to promote people-to-people relations
Q: What is your message to Turkish people, particularly business people?
Mannan: In addition to furthering the good political understanding and increasing business, I will also emphasize having regular education and cultural exchanges with Turkey. We will encourage more people to people contact at all possible levels from various professional backgrounds.
But first and foremost, our goal will be to make the business at least double if not more, in the coming years. If possible, within two to three years we wish to reach the trade volume target of $2 billion. For that, I will need the support of the people of Turkey especially the businesspeople, big business establishments, as well as the government. And also, at the same time, we will need the support of the Bangladesh side from both private and public sectors under the dynamic leadership and guidance of Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
I wish the friendly People of Turkey good health and continued success in the new year of 2021. May Almighty Allah bless us all. May Turkey Bangladesh friendship live forever.
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