Image Credit: WAM

Bangladesh will set up an economic zone for the UAE by 2023, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in Abu Dhabi. The initiative, which was kickstarted during the premier’s February 2019 visit to the UAE, still requires some legal details, including a developer agreement and a land lease agreement, to be negotiated.

“The Government of Bangladesh is ready to provide land for the development of the zone. After completion of all the necessary formalities, it is expected that the zone will be set up in 2023,” Sheikh Hasina told Gulf News.

“The manufacturing of export-oriented halal products will be the prime objective of the economic zone, and the processing of agro-products is also a good choice. The selection [of goods to manufacture] will [eventually] be based on the UAE’s requirement,” she added.

An agreement for economic zone activities in Cox Bazar’s Matarbari area was also signed last February with the private office of Sheikh Ahmad Dalmook Al Maktoum.

“These agreements will provide the UAE with low-cost industrial plots, and a high return on investment. Investors will also have an opportunity to capture market share in Bangladesh, where consumption is growing rapidly,” Sheikh Hasina suggested.

Ties with UAE

Bilateral ties between Bangladesh and UAE were strengthened significantly in 2019, with UAE investors pledging $10 billion (Dh36.7 billion) last year into Bangladesh’s energy, ports, power and infrastructure.

Bangladeshi expatriates, in turn, are significant investors in the UAE economy. They currently run 50,000 businesses that employ more than 150,000 people.

The prime minister was on her third visit to the UAE since the start of 2019. After a five-day visit in February 2019, she also attended the Dubai Air Show last November, meeting with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, during her visit.

“The UAE is a very friendly country [and has been for a long time]. It is also just a five-hour journey by air, and I visit whenever there is an opportunity,” Sheikh Hasina said.

Visas for Bangladeshi workers

About 700,000 expatriate Bangladeshis currently live in the UAE, making up the second-largest segment of non-resident Bangladeshis after Malaysia.

There have however been concerns that UAE visas have not been issued to Bangladeshi workers over the last few years. Statistics provided by the UAE Embassy in Bangladesh show that 849 visas have been issued to Bangladeshis since November 2019, including 495 employment visas.

“UAE authorities have assured us that visas of all kinds for Bangladeshi expatriates will open soon. We are still optimistic based on this commitment. The Bangladeshi diaspora contributes to the development of the UAE through hard work and professionalism, and the demand for Bangladeshi workers is growing in the UAE labour market,” Sheikh Hasina said.

NID registration for non-resident Bangladeshis

Meanwhile, processes are ongoing to issue national ID cards (NIDs) to Bangladeshi expats in the UAE. These ID Cards are now required across Bangladesh for major transactions, and Sheikh Hasina said those registered in the NID database will be able to vote in the next national elections.

Till date, non-resident Bangladeshis have not been able to vote from abroad.

“We have [already] received 262 applications from the UAE [for NIDs], and these are now under primary investigation,” Sheikh Hasina said.