El Moudjahid: Algeria was the first Arab country to recognize the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. The historical relations of the two countries date back to the time of the independence of Bangladesh. What’s your comment ?
Larbi Rabah: Indeed, Algeria was among the very first Arab countries to recognize the independence of Bangladesh. A densely historical relationship has bound our country to
Bangladesh since its independence. Who does not remember, on both sides, the historic visit of the father of the Bangladeshi nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Algeria within the framework of the 4th Summit of non-aligned countries, in September 1973? At this solemn historic moment, of which Algerian diplomacy and all of Algeria are forever proud, Mujibur Rahman, like other great leaders of the Third World, had to express his support, without hesitation, to the Algerian initiative to convene an extraordinary session of the UN/GA with the ambition of establishing a new world economic order. It should be noted here that the Algerian President, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, recently reiterated this old call from Algeria for a new world economic order, during his participation in a recent virtual meeting of the Brics. It should be added that in 1974, Bangladesh was admitted to the OIC, thanks in particular to the efforts of the late President Houari Boumediene.
Algeria pays particular attention to the diversification of its economy and the increase of its non-hydrocarbon production, in the light of the new investment code. What means should be put in place to encourage foreign investors to come to Algeria?
The new investment code has given concrete expression to the objective set by the government: to set up a stable and coherent legal framework that meets the expectations of investors and that places the national economy on the path of growth and development. Bangladeshi investors are urged to take an interest in the new business climate underway in our country.
What is your assessment of political and diplomatic relations between Algeria and Bangladesh?
The legal framework for bilateral cooperation consists of a commercial agreement signed in October 1976 and two agreements: one cultural and the other scientific and technical, signed in Algiers in May 1981. More recently and concretely, the ministries of Foreign Affairs of our two countries signed a MoU on Political Consultations, on the sidelines of the 17th NAP Ministerial Conference, in May 2014 in Algiers.
In May this year, the two MAEs held, virtually, their first session of political consultations under this MoU. Notwithstanding, the Covid-19 pandemic that has raged since my arrival here in Bangladesh in 2020, I had to hold a number of video conferences with ministers from the Government of Bangladesh. In the energy sector, there was validation by both parties of the bilateral working group that I proposed with the agreement of our Ministry of Energy. The Algerian and Bangladeshi officials making up this working group have been designated by each of the two parties. This working group has not yet held any meetings. In the field of industry, there was a proposal by the Bangladeshi side of a draft agreement on the protection of investments as well as a draft agreement on non-double taxation, submitted directly to the Algerian through the Bangladesh Embassy in Algiers. For the draft investment protection agreement, the embassy in Dhaka was also contacted. I also had to contact our Algerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CACI) to make sure that we can place Algerian products on the Bangladeshi market. She then sent me a cooperation project between the CACI and the Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry which I submitted to the Bangladeshi side via the MAE. This draft is now ready for signature, as are many other draft agreements. It should also be said here, regarding our Chamber of Commerce and Industry that a webinar was organized simultaneously in Dhaka and Algiers. This virtual meeting saw the participation of the President of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), officials of the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) as well as myself and the Ambassador of Bangladesh in Algiers. During this meeting, the opportunities for the development of economic exchanges as well as the opportunity to conclude business partnerships between the two countries were reviewed. The idea of creating a bilateral business council was also raised during this remote meeting.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the Tayal complex, located in Sidi Khettab (Relizane) which exports several categories of textile products, has used the skills of dozens of Bangladeshi specialists. With regard to parliamentary cooperation, I suggested to the President of the Parliament of Bangladesh (Speaker) to reflect on the establishment of an Algerian-Bangladeshi parliamentary group of friendship and cooperation.
Bangladesh wants to increase its exports to Algeria, especially in textiles. What is your analysis?
Our country already imports textile products from Bangladesh, as well as leather goods and shoes, for example. Bangladeshi importers import the fresh date from Algeria. It seems to us that we can export, in the short and medium term, to Bangladesh, at least the following products: Hydrocarbons: during a virtual interview with the Minister of Industry of Bangladesh, the latter told me that his country wanted to import LPG and LNG from Algeria. Note that Bangladesh bought Algerian gas on the spot market in 2020 and 2021.
Fertilizers: Bangladesh, which is a big demand for fertilizers, can import from our country. To give you an idea of the country’s potash needs, Canada has exported over one million tonnes of potassium fertilizer to Bangladesh since 1972.
Cement: Bangladesh is in demand for this product because of its significant economic growth and the enormous infrastructure it is putting in place. Our country, which now seems to be self-
sufficient in this matter, can gain a market share of this product in this country.
Fruits and vegetables: during a discussion with the CACI, the latter firmly supported me that our country is able, today, to place agricultural products on the Bangladeshi market. This country, which has about 170 million inhabitants, imports agricultural products from different countries. If ours are competitive enough, there is no reason why they should not arrive in Bangladesh. It is important to look at the strengths of Bangladesh’s ICTs and see how they could be leveraged. It should be mentioned that this country exports $1 billion worth of technological products per year and expects to increase this amount to $5 billion/year in the very short term. In addition, our country can participate in the construction of infrastructure (buildings, roads, bridges, etc.) in this country through a national company such as COSIDER, which has great expertise in this area. Sonatrach would also benefit from looking closely at its cooperation with this country, both with regard to the supply of hydrocarbons and in terms of oil exploration, as other foreign companies do.
Algeria is interested in reassessing trade with Bangladesh in order to raise the level of cooperation between the two countries. What’s your comment? And what are the target areas?
Algeria officially reopened its embassy in Bangladesh in February 2020. As I indicated above, we are working on both sides to strengthen our economic and trade cooperation to bring it into line with our relationship. Our country can consider discussing cooperation with Bangladesh in different sectors. At a sufficiently advanced stage, consideration could be given to concluding partnership agreements and joint ventures in sectors such as the pharmaceutical, textile, ICT and energy industries. It should also be noted that during the audience she granted me in March
2020, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina invited Algerian entrepreneurs to come and invest in the hundred or so economic zones, some of which are already in place and others in progress by the government. Finally, I must mention that high-ranking visits are expected from both sides which will certainly boost our cooperation. S.B.
*EL Moudjahid is the Algerian National news daily