“Bangladesh is an attractive country to invest”

In an exclusive interview with Reaz Haider of Dhaka Tribune, Turkish Ambassador to Bangladesh Mustafa Osman Turan sheds light on Dhaka-Ankara relations, including business and his government’s investment plan

What is the current trade volume between Bangladesh and Turkey? What is the bilateral trade objective for the next five years?

One of my priorities as ambassador here is to increase our level of trade. During the meeting between Foreign Minister Momen and our Foreign Minister, they decided to double the volume of trade from $ 1 billion, which is the current level, to $ 2 billion. This is our target. And I am pleased to report that our trading volume has not declined during the pandemic.

It’s increasing. In 2021, it will be around $ 1.2 billion. So over the next five years, we can easily reach our goal of $ 2 billion.

We sell a lot of cotton. In exchange, we buy jute. Almost $ 300 million worth of jute each year. Almost a third of our bilateral trade volume is jute imported from Bangladesh.

Our second priority is to increase our investments in Bangladesh. Some Bangladeshi companies may invest in Turkey, depending on government approval. For now, we are focusing on our investment in Bangladesh. Due to its economic growth and political stability, Bangladesh is an attractive country to invest. It has a qualified and young workforce.

Turkish LPG company AYGAZ has decided to invest in Chittagong, Mongla and Dhaka. The main facility will be in Chittagong. They will transport the LPG through large tankers and fill small cylinders for distribution not only throughout the country, but also to other countries in the region.

We are also planning to build a special economic zone for Turkish businesses in Bangladesh.

Did you include the purchase of the tusk?

No, it is not included. In fact, Bangladesh and Turkey have good military cooperation. We have soldiers on both sides. They sign agreements for training, participation in exercises and mutual visits. Turkey is a good source of defense products.

Our defense industry has made great progress over the past 15 years, we produce 75% of our needs and export a lot. We produce according to NATO standards. And our price is reasonable compared to other countries. We also provide training and maintenance. Our products are also tested in the field. Turkish products are very competitive nowadays.

Turkey has developed a vaccine against Covid. Do you intend to share the technology with Bangladesh to produce the vaccine there?

Human trials of the Turkovac vaccine are ongoing, and testing on unvaccinated citizens will begin soon. Turkovac was developed by scientists at Erciyes University in Kayseri and began its phase 3 human trials in June. The inactive vaccine is now awaiting emergency use approval.

So it’s exclusively our own vaccine. We will be ready to support Bangladesh when needed, and we are open to sharing technology with Bangladesh when the vaccine becomes available. We will see how we can work together. Bangladesh is also very good at producing medicines.

Developing countries, including Bangladesh, are falling victim to climate change. How are Turkey and Bangladesh working together on climate change issues? Do you think developed countries should compensate developing countries?

Bangladesh has become a leading country in the fight against climate change. The government led by Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should be given credit for leading the Climate Vulnerable Forum and other countries.

Bangladesh is an important voice on the international stage. We therefore support the views of Bangladeshis and developing countries on this issue. Because what is needed is climate justice.

There is a need for distribution of funds, depending on the loss and damage suffered by certain vulnerable countries. We are on the same wavelength with Bangladesh on this issue, and Turkey also recently ratified the Paris Agreement. We will participate at the highest level at COP26, to be held in Glasgow in November.

How many Turkish government scholarships are offered to Bangladeshis? Can your government grant more scholarships to Bangladeshi students in its educational institutions?

The number is very beautiful these days. In the years 2019 and 2020, we had 680 Bangladeshi students studying in Turkey. And we offer around 50 scholarships to Bangladesh students every year, every year. We are also working to increase the number. We are happy to see Bangladeshi students becoming a bridge between countries.

There are very successful students who help promote business cooperation between countries. Some of them work in Turkish companies in Bangladesh or also work for Bangladeshi companies that want to do business with Turkey. Some of the other students are academics, some are doing social science research, and some are medical students. We are therefore very satisfied with it and hope to increase the scholarships in the coming period.

What is the number of Bangladeshis living in your country and how would you rate their contribution to your country?

Over 1,000 Bangladeshis are registered as residents in Turkey. To be exact, it’s 1,289. This exchange of tourism and business increases the level of contact between people, which is very positive. And we believe that this will lead to even more people contributing to our bilateral relations.

We value the contribution of Bangladeshis to our academic life, our private sector, our workforce and other fields. And recently, also during the pandemic, Turkey has become one of the medical tourism destinations for Bangladeshis. Turkish Airlines now flies 12 times a week. Most of the time we have two flights between the two countries.

A lot of people go to Turkey because we share the same culture, religion and halal food.

Our country’s medical treatment facilities are among the best. Over the past 10 years, Turkey has become one of the top five medical tourism destinations in the world. So many patients come from other European countries to seek treatment in Turkey. We have very large hospitals with 5,000 beds and state-of-the-art equipment and facilities.

There are very professional doctors and health professionals. Now they are open to nationals of other countries. They treat not only our citizens, but also foreigners. They have programs for that. There are people who speak in different languages.

Soon we will be promoting these hospitals in Bangladesh. Some companies are interested in starting medical tourism in Turkey. And the prices are also reasonable in Turkey, not like in Singapore or some European countries.

In the Rohingya camp at Cox’s Bazar, we have a field hospital. Healthcare professionals, doctors and nurses treat 1,500 people every day. Not only the Rohingya, but also the host community. They are treated free of charge in the camps and medicine is provided free of charge.

There will be a hospital in Dhaka, commercial under the public-private partnership (PPP) model. Hopefully there will be a government-to-government (GTG) agreement, the joint venture of governments. We are looking for land to be allocated by the government. When the lands are allocated, the process will begin. Hopefully within a few years.

What is your perception of our culture and our heritage?

Turkey and Bangladesh share a lot of cultural and common heritage. It is not just about religious beliefs, even though we share the same religion. Sufi traditions are common in both countries and the culture of hospitality is also very common. Our relationship dates from before the founding of Bangladesh; we are very grateful and will never forget that the Muslims of Southeast Asia, including the Bengalis, supported the Turkish War of Independence after WWI, and have respect and admiration for the founding president from Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

How do you see the rise of women in Bangladesh and South Asia?

I am very impressed with the way women pursue successful careers in all walks of life in Bangladesh. The Honorable Prime Minister and the Honorable Speaker of Parliament are the most striking examples. We all know that in factories, in the garment industry, most of the workers are women, and they earn their bread and butter for their families.

And they contribute a lot to the economy. Bangladesh has become a model of sustainable development through the empowerment of women. I realized how much the women of Bangladesh contribute to its economy and to society in general. It is very impressive.

Reaz Haider is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Dhaka Tribune. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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