40 years of Bangladesh-S Korea friendship

Barrister Harun Ur Rashid, The Daily Star, May 9

May 12 of this year marks the 40th Anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

On this day in 1972, South Korea recognised Bangladesh and in March 1975 opened its diplomatic mission in Dhaka, and Bangladesh opened its diplomatic mission in February 1987.

South Korea has been one of the “economic tigers” in the region. Its economic growth during the last two decades has been phenomenal. Per capital income of the population is about $28,000 (2010).

In recent years, South Korea’s profile in international field has been raised in many directions: First, it was the host of G-20 meeting in November, 2010. Second, it held a nuclear security summit on March 26-27 which was attended by US President Barack Obama and 50 other world leaders. Third, the current Secretary General of the UN is a South Korean national, and finally the World Bank president-elect is a South Korean born American, Dr. Jim Yong Kim.

Relations between Bangladesh and South Korea have been characterised by mutual trust, confidence and support. South Korea is a significant development partner of Bangladesh and many infrastructures are being built by South Korean contractors.

Perhaps the most encouraging development in bilateral relations is the growing relationship between the private sectors of the two countries. South Korea’s investment and business opportunities in Bangladesh are on the increase.

Since 1973, Bangladesh and South Korea have concluded agreements on trade and economic cooperation, cultural exchanges, promotion and protection of investments, and scientific and technological cooperation.

South Korea’s prime minister visited Bangladesh in September, 1994 and in November 2002 to strengthen economic co-operation between the two countries.

In June 2007, Bangladesh signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with South Korea on recruitment of workforce under a new arrangement styled Employment Permit System (EPS). Under the EPS, South Korea will recruit about 50,000 skilled workers from 14 countries, including Bangladesh. The estimated 10,000 skilled workers of Bangladesh would be drawn from four categories — construction, manufacture, services, and agriculture, fisheries and livestock.

South Korea invested substantially in Bangladesh in ready-made garments, textiles, tanning and shoe factories. Many joint ventures in Bangladesh’s Export Processing Zones (EPZ) have been set up by the Koreans and an EPZ will be earmarked for South Korea in future.

In 2008, 75% of total tariffs were opened for Bangladesh. In 2009, the coverage was expanded to 80% with the addition of 253 products. In 2010, additional 5% was added.

Bangladesh’s exports during 2009-10 to South Korea amounted to $148.2 million, and include raw jute, jute products, jute yarn, newsprint, tea, leather goods, tobacco and fertilizer. South Korea’s exports to Bangladesh stood at $836.36 million and included chemical elements, dyeing, colouring materials, tanning, medical and pharmaceutical products, iron and steel, electrical goods and motor vehicle machinery.

Light electronics industry and computers from South Korea are making inroads in Bangladeshi markets. South Korean cars are also making their presence felt in Bangladesh.

South Korean private investment as of 2010 stood at over $698 million. It is reported that the investment would gradually increase to $1 billion in the zone earmarked for South Korea. It is reported that until August of 2010, 328 companies from South Korea were registered in the Board of Investment, Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid an official visit to Seoul from May 16 to 18, 2010. That was the first visit by a Bangladeshi prime minister to South Korea after 15 years.

During the visit, both countries signed four MoUs: (a) Framework arrangement concerning loans from Korea’s Economic Development and Cooperation Fund (ECDF) to Bangladesh for next three years, (b) cooperation in energy sector, (c) cooperation in environmental protection and (d) cultural exchange programme for the next four years.

President of South Korea Lee Myung-bak pledged to share its growth experience and cooperate in transfer of shipbuilding, construction and IT technologies to Bangladesh. The two countries designated 2013 as the Year of Korea-Bangladesh.

In October 2011, South Korea’s Hyundai Engineering Company and Daewoo International Corporation signed an agreement with Ashuganj Power Station Company to build a 225-megawatt power plant in Ashuganj.

In February 2012, Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) pledged the funding of $3.5 million dollars for the integrated development project in Comilla and it would be implemented by both KOICA and Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD). The project would provide income generating support to 65,000 farmers.

On February 15, 2012, the handover ceremony of KOICA assisted “ICT Development in the Ministry of Public Administration (MoPA)” project was held at Bangladesh Secretariat. This was the first ever E-file management system operational in MoPA, which was implemented from 2010- 2012 with the Korean government’s grant assistance of $1.3 million.

Under this project, KOICA provided e-file management system software, 24 desktops and 6 laptops computers and necessary accessories of IT equipments for ICT training room. Interior renovation of Data Center was also completed under the project. Earlier, KOICA also conducted training for the officials of government of Bangladesh.

The cultural bond between the two countries is strong. The Bangladesh Embassy and Korean Foundation had jointly organised an exhibition of around 100 paintings by eleven Bangladeshi painters at the Korea Foundation Cultural Centre in May 2009.

A South Korean dance team visits Bangladesh almost every year. In February 2012, the South Korean Embassy organised a concert titled “Night Jazzy Flare” in Dhaka

South Korean Ambassador H.E. Tai -young Cho reportedly said that a Korean and an American company had formed a consortium with Petrobangla and started exploration for gas in the Bay of Bengal. “They are optimistic that they will find something,” he said.

The basic course of Bangladesh’s relationship with South Korea has been firmly set and will continue for further expansion for mutual benefit of the people of both countries.

The writer is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.