jamuna special news: Sidsel Bleken, Ambassador of Norway to Bangladesh spoke to Sazzad Haider, Diplomatic Editor of jamunanews24.com. Excerpts:
Question: How do you feel here as Ambassador of Norway?
Answer: I have been very warmly welcomed in Bangladesh. My interest for the country goes back many years, and I am very glad that I have got the opportunity to serve here as ambassador. Bangladesh has made great progress since independence, thanks to a combination of industrial development and investments, a strong civil society and a government policy that has given priority to health and education for the people. I am particularly encouraged to meet a large number of strong and independent women. Women’s rights are human rights and women’s participation in the labour market is crucial for economic development.
Question: What is your prime task to do here as priority basis? How do you analyse the existing relationship between Bangladesh and Norway?
Answer: My prime task is to strengthen the bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Norway. Norway was among the first countries that recognised Bangladesh early in 1972. Since then we have developed strong ties both politically, culturally and economically. Over the years, Bangladesh has been among the largest recipients of Norwegian development aid. However, with the strong economic growth here, our relationship is now focused on private sector development and investments.
Question: Bangladesh is looking for investments in the particular tourism sector. How can we attract more Norwegian investment or tourist here?
Answer: Bangladesh as a tourist destination is not well known in Norway. However, there are unique destinations, in particular, the Sundarbans, that should be of interest also for Norwegian tourists. Norwegians love to travel and explore new places. But, as we are only 5 million inhabitants in Norway, it is not likely that there will be a large number coming here. When it comes to investments in other sectors, there is definitely interest. An estimated 35 Norwegian companies have some form of commercial contact with Bangladesh. The largest Norwegian investment by far is Telenor’s majority stake in Grameenphone with investments of more than 3 billion USD in telecommunications. In recent years, we have also seen interest from Norwegian information technology companies to do business in Bangladesh. We hope this sector will continue to grow. The energy sector is another area that is promising for Norwegian investments. Solar power plant company Scatec Solar is at the project development stage for large-scale solar power plants. They plan to invest $800 million to generate 500 MW power from solar installations in different parts of Bangladesh.
With its solid economic growth, Bangladesh is also attractive for financial investments. The Norwegian Investment Fund for Developing countries, Norfund has invested more than $35 million in financial institutions here, and the Norwegian Government Pension Fund has since 2015 invested approx. $18. 8 million bonds in 16 companies in Bangladesh. I´m sure that Bangladesh by simplifying regulations and create a predictable regulatory framework has an untapped potential to attract even more foreign investments.
Question: What type of cooperation does your Embassy provide for trading with Norway?
Answer: Goods from Bangladesh can be imported to Norway free of duty, according to a set of regulations. The trade has shown a steady growth in recent years, mostly of textiles and readymade garments. From 2010 to 2015 export from Bangladesh to Norway has increased more than 60 percent and amounted to $211 million in 2015. We expect this growth to continue. The Embassy regularly assists Norwegian companies in finding trading partners in Bangladesh. However, we would also like to see a growth in exports from Norway to Bangladesh. In 2015 the total value was only $27 million. It consisted mainly of machinery and engineering products.
Question: What is your observation on the livelihood, the culture of the people of Bangladesh?
Answer: Bangladesh has an ambition not only to be a middle-income country by 2021, but also to meet the sustainable development goals by 2030, and to be a developed country by 2041. Looking at the substantial improvements that the country has achieved since independence in 1971, these ambitions might be realistic. Bangladesh has a vibrant civil society and a young and energetic population eager to contribute to reaching these goals. Bangladeshis in general love their country, and are eager to protect the fundamental values that are stated in the constitution: a democratic society free from exploitation, a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedom, equality and justice, political, economic and social, will be secured for all citizens.
Bangladesh has rich cultural traditions, in a variety of areas. I have had the pleasure of listening to some of you very talented musicians, and I have enjoyed seeing works of some of your creative artist. And I look forward to exploring more, including the Bangla New Year procession that recently got the honour of being put the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage