Path To Recovery: Embracing Intraregional Investments In South Asia

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Path To Recovery: Embracing Intraregional Investments In South Asia

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South Asia continues to recover from the recent wave of COVID-19, with a rebound in global demand and targeted measures put in place. But the recovery remains fragile and uneven. As per the latest South Asia Economic Focus forecast, the region’s average annual growth over 2020-2023 will be 3.4%, which is 3 percentage points less than what it was in the four years preceding the pandemic.

A key part of South Asia’s recovery will be fully embracing global, regional, and local business opportunities. However, intraregional engagements in South Asia have been restrictivethe intraregional trade alone is 5% of the total trade, as compared to 60 % in Europe. Intraregional investments have been equally inadequate at around $3 billion, which is barely 0.6% of the total regional inward foreign direct investment (FDI) from the world. Post COVID-19, with disruptions in global value chains, rising trade and transportation costs, intraregional engagements and trade will be critical to providing the much-needed buoyancy to economic recovery. Further, the rising demands for goods and services within the region are creating significant opportunities for trade and investment to expand and diversify.

But within the region, restrictive and non-transparent policies, particularly outward FDI regimes, deter investments. Limited knowledge about the economic and investment landscape in the neighboring countries, and low bilateral trust further increase costs and restrict economic engagements. Knowledge connectivity, therefore, remains key to intraregional investment decisions. Despite constraints, a few pioneers in South Asia have successfully established intraregional ventures across various sectors. These pioneers tend to be prior exporters; well-networked, often with strong social and ethnic connections; and are high productivity firms with surplus investment funds.  
  
Our 8th #OneSouthAsia Conversation will share the experiences of such pioneer investor firms and explore the ways intraregional investments can be strengthened to boost robust recovery and overall economic growth in South Asia. The event, held in collaboration with IFC, will bring together WBG leadership, leading investors from South Asia, and policy makers. The event builds on the latest World Bank report Regional Investment Pioneers in South Asia: The Payoff of Knowing your Neighbors, that explores the potential of intraregional investments and some understudied constraints to such investments. The report also profiles South Asian pioneer investor firms that have built successful intraregional ventures and documents their drivers and constraints. 

00:00 Welcome and introductory remarks
03:47 Opportunities and challenges for intraregional investments
09:41 Intraregional investments and IFC’s overall strategy in South Asia
15:36 Pakistan supporting inward and outward-bound investments from the region
22:19 Further investments prospects for South Asia
27:09 Pakistan's specific policies and support for women investors
33:03 Restrictive policies that deter intraregional investments and how can that be changed
40:44 Main hurdles to inward and outward investments from the private sector’s viewpoint
44:11 Intraregional investments in Latin America and Africa
50:52 Introducing changes and flexibility to improve the investment landscape
53:21 Efforts from the Board of Investment for more intra-regional investments
57:19 Knowledge connectivity and the potential of social-ethnic and knowledge links
1:01:22 The role of IFC in promoting intraregional investment opportunities
1:08:15 Inland water way transport between India and Bangladesh
1:10:45 Changes in the next 12 months that could boost intraregional investments
1:14:08 Closing remarks

Read the transcript


  • 00:01 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 00:01 Good morning,  
  • 00:03 good afternoon, and good evening to 
  • 00:03 everyone. My name is Cecile Fruman.  
  • 00:08 I'm the Director for Regional Integration and 
  • 00:08 Engagement for South Asia at the World Bank.  
  • 00:12 And it is my pleasure to welcome you to 
  • 00:12 our eighth One South Asia conversation.
  • 00:17 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 00:17 Our topic today is Path to Recovery:  
  • 00:20 Embracing Intraregional Investments in 
  • 00:20 South Asia. This is a bi-monthly series  
  • 00:26 where we discuss issues related to regional 
  • 00:26 integration and cooperation in South Asia.  
  • 00:32 Our approach to regional integration in 
  • 00:32 South Asia has three pillars of focus.  
  • 00:37 The first is on enhancing economic connectivity, 
  • 00:37 the second on reducing vulnerability and building  
  • 00:43 resilience in particular to climate 
  • 00:43 change. And the last is human capital.
  • 00:47 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 00:47 Today's conversation is very much related  
  • 00:50 to the first pillar of economic connectivity. And 
  • 00:50 the central question that we will be addressing  
  • 00:56 is how do we promote greater economic 
  • 00:56 engagements and investments in the region?
  • 01:01 [Cecile Fruman]: 
  • 01:02 This event coincides with the launch of our new 
  • 01:02 report which explores intra-regional investments.  
  • 01:08 The title of the report is Regional Investment 
  • 01:08 Pioneers in South Asia: The Payoff of Knowing  
  • 01:13 Your Neighbors. The report is on our event page, 
  • 01:13 and I highly recommend that you take a look at it.
  • 01:19 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 01:19 So many of us know that intra-regional  
  • 01:23 trade in South Asia is at very low levels, 
  • 01:23 barely 5% to 6% of the total trade in the region  
  • 01:29 compared to 50% in East Asia. Yet, what is less 
  • 01:29 known is that intra-regional investments are at  
  • 01:36 equally low levels. Inward intra-regional 
  • 01:36 FDI is less than 1% of the total inward FDI  
  • 01:44 from the world. And for women-led businesses, 
  • 01:44 intra-regional investments are even much lower.
  • 01:50 [Cecile Fruman]: 
  • 01:52 So trade and investments are closely linked and 
  • 01:52 they are drivers of growth of jobs and poverty  
  • 01:58 reduction. And post-COVID 19, we believe that 
  • 01:58 intra-regional trade and investments will become  
  • 02:04 all the more important to growth and 
  • 02:04 inclusive recovery across all sectors,  
  • 02:08 and in particular in the services sectors, 
  • 02:08 which are rapidly growing in South Asia.
  • 02:13 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 02:13 So our discussion today will focus on embracing  
  • 02:17 the potential of intra-regional investments, both 
  • 02:17 inward and outward bound, and understanding the  
  • 02:22 various constraints. And to do so, we have 
  • 02:22 an amazing panel with us today. We have Mrs.  
  • 02:28 Fareena Mazhar, she's the secretary of the Board 
  • 02:28 of Investment in Pakistan, Mr. Hector Gomez Ang  
  • 02:35 is IFC's regional director for South Asia, and IFC 
  • 02:35 is the private sector arm of the World Bank group.  
  • 02:42 Mr. Sanjay Kathuria is a fellow at the Wilson 
  • 02:42 Center, was previously for many years with the  
  • 02:47 World Bank, and he is one of the co-authors of 
  • 02:47 the report that I just mentioned. And Mr. Ahsan  
  • 02:53 Khan Chowdhury is a CEO of PRAN-RFL Group, the 
  • 02:53 largest agribusiness conglomerate in Bangladesh,  
  • 03:00 which has been expanding its operations in South 
  • 03:00 Asia, and he'll be sharing his story with us.
  • 03:05 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 03:05 So before we dig right into topic, just  
  • 03:09 a couple of reminders, we have a poll on our page. 
  • 03:09 It's at the bottom of the page, if you scroll  
  • 03:14 down. We invite you to take the poll and we'll 
  • 03:14 be sharing the results at the end of this event.  
  • 03:20 You can also post your questions on the 
  • 03:20 page, we'll try to address a few during the  
  • 03:25 conversation. We also have two guest bloggers with 
  • 03:25 us, Mr. Gonzalo Varela, who's the senior economist  
  • 03:31 with the bank, and Mr. Ravi Yatawara, who is one 
  • 03:31 of the co-authors of the report, and they will be  
  • 03:37 answering your questions live 
  • 03:37 also as this discussion unfolds.
  • 03:41 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 03:41 So without further due,  
  • 03:43 let me turn first to Sanjay. Sanjay, your report 
  • 03:43 makes a very strong case for intra-regional  
  • 03:50 investments, especially in this post-COVID 
  • 03:50 times. Can you tell us what the key findings  
  • 03:56 are and mostly where you saw opportunities and 
  • 03:56 the main challenges that you encountered also.
  • 04:02 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 04:02 Thank you, Sanjay. Over to you.
  • 04:04 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 04:04 Thank you, Cecile. And I'd like to thank  
  • 04:08 my co-authors, Ravi Yatawara, who you mentioned, 
  • 04:08 and Xiao'ou Zhu, for helping us and producing  
  • 04:16 this report, I think which hopefully will 
  • 04:16 provide lot of food for thought for everybody.
  • 04:21 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 04:21 So in terms of the opportunities,  
  • 04:24 I'd like to start by highlighting some of 
  • 04:24 the long term trends in world trade and  
  • 04:31 world economic engagement that have actually 
  • 04:31 been magnified or accelerated by COVID-19.  
  • 04:40 One is the focus on global value chain 
  • 04:40 diversification and shifting the such value  
  • 04:45 chains closer to home. We've seen a lot of talk 
  • 04:45 about that. There is also the rising trade and  
  • 04:52 connectivity costs globally where long distance 
  • 04:52 containers, the prices have gone up from...  
  • 04:58 We know this is all over the news... $2,000 to 
  • 04:58 $20,000, $18,000, and so on. So there is a huge  
  • 05:06 and massive increase in trade costs, albeit 
  • 05:06 hopefully this will go down in coming months.
  • 05:13 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 05:13 There is also the importance of services in  
  • 05:16 global recovery. We know that the global recovery 
  • 05:16 has been much more focused on the goods side,  
  • 05:21 but services have yet to bounce back to 
  • 05:21 pre-pandemic levels. And in South Asia,  
  • 05:28 the services' sector is growing and is 
  • 05:28 very important. There is also the expanding  
  • 05:34 regional consumer markets in South Asia based 
  • 05:34 on shared prosperity and strong economic growth.
  • 05:42 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 05:42 And then in South Asia, there is  
  • 05:44 the potential which has been unrealized, which 
  • 05:44 is the potential for regional trade to provide  
  • 05:51 the buoyancy which is often absent in world 
  • 05:51 trade and the kind of counter cyclicality,  
  • 05:57 again, against pivoting away from world trade 
  • 05:57 focusing on the region. So I think for all these  
  • 06:05 reasons, there should be a receptivity and an 
  • 06:05 energy to explore the region deeper with renewed  
  • 06:13 motivation because the regional opportunities 
  • 06:13 have come knocking at our door again.
  • 06:18 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 06:18 And in our survey, we did a survey of 1,274  
  • 06:24 firms in all the eight countries in the region, 
  • 06:24 we found actually that 65% of first investments  
  • 06:31 were actually in the region. So there is a basis 
  • 06:31 for a deeper level of engagement fueled by the  
  • 06:37 links between trade, investment and connectivity. 
  • 06:37 And from a private sector perspective, the pioneer  
  • 06:46 firms, that is firms that have actually crossed 
  • 06:46 borders in an intrepid and innovative way,  
  • 06:53 such as PRAN represented by Ahsan here. There 
  • 06:53 are expanding consumer markets which provide  
  • 07:01 different kind of demand from that which 
  • 07:01 is available in higher income countries.  
  • 07:06 There is the production efficiencies, many firms 
  • 07:06 from South Asia have kind of relocated, or have  
  • 07:13 made use of these value chains, and there are 
  • 07:13 examples in the report about investments from  
  • 07:21 India to Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka to 
  • 07:21 India, India to Nepal, and so on.  
  • 07:25 There is also the issue of value change 
  • 07:25 management and brand upgrading where the  
  • 07:30 region, again, can provide a platform for 
  • 07:30 demand, for experimentation, and so on.
  • 07:37 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 07:37 And then finally, from a  
  • 07:40 private sector perspective, I would say there is 
  • 07:40 also the rise of non-equity modes of investment,  
  • 07:48 including relational contracting. So the region 
  • 07:48 has afforded pioneer investors all kinds of ways  
  • 07:56 of engaging. And me and my co-authors think that 
  • 07:56 this provides possibilities for deeper engagement.
  • 08:06 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 08:06 But you also asked, Cecile,  
  • 08:08 about challenges so there are all these things 
  • 08:08 that are happening which should energize regional  
  • 08:14 engagement, economic engagement, but 
  • 08:14 very briefly, what are the challenges?  
  • 08:19 Well, the first one, of course, is the 
  • 08:19 traditional lack of engagement within the region  
  • 08:24 when trading or investing. We know all about 
  • 08:24 that. But from a business community perspective,  
  • 08:31 something that we've talked about a lot in 
  • 08:31 the report, which is one of the highlights,  
  • 08:35 is the low knowledge connectivity... And I will 
  • 08:35 try to expand on that later if I get a chance...  
  • 08:41 But the average score on knowledge connectivity 
  • 08:41 between country pairs was only 1.9 versus a high  
  • 08:48 of four. So this creates a high cost 
  • 08:48 of search, matching and contracting.
  • 08:54 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 08:54 From a firm capacity perspective also,  
  • 08:58 knowledge doesn't travel easily. Even if there 
  • 08:58 is a pioneer investor, the sort of knowledge  
  • 09:04 tends to stay within the group of that pioneer 
  • 09:04 investor, and it doesn't travel easily to firms  
  • 09:10 outside that conglomerate or group. So we call 
  • 09:10 it the case of the missing herd in South Asia.
  • 09:18 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 09:18 And finally, from a government  
  • 09:20 and institutional perspective, there are all kinds 
  • 09:20 of restrictive outward foreign investment policies  
  • 09:28 in most countries. And hopefully, I'll get a 
  • 09:28 chance to talk a little bit more about that.
  • 09:33 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 09:33 Thank you.
  • 09:35 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 09:35 Thank you, Sanjay.
  • 09:39 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 09:39 I'm going to turn to Hector now.  
  • 09:41 So Hector, IFC is working to promote inclusive 
  • 09:41 growth in South Asia by improving infrastructure,  
  • 09:47 financial services and supporting 
  • 09:47 the private sector. How does  
  • 09:51 intra-regional investments fit into 
  • 09:51 IFC's overall strategy in South Asia?
  • 09:55 [Hector Gomez Ang]: 
  • 09:57 Thanks. Thanks, Cecile, and thanks for the 
  • 09:57 invitation. I think this is very, very timely.
  • 10:02 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 10:02 Look, I mean, maybe one thing important  
  • 10:06 about IFC is that our mission, which is to support 
  • 10:06 the private sector, it gets accomplished through  
  • 10:12 our clients, through our private sector clients. 
  • 10:12 So it really has to be what private sector clients  
  • 10:18 are doing that we are able to support. Now, we 
  • 10:18 together with the World Bank, so as a World Bank  
  • 10:25 group, we clearly have regional integration as 
  • 10:25 a top priority for South Asia, in particular I  
  • 10:33 think regional infrastructure and what we call 
  • 10:33 South-South investments, right? So essentially  
  • 10:40 companies from emerging markets investing in 
  • 10:40 other emerging markets. I think the logic behind  
  • 10:45 it is that companies in emerging markets tend to 
  • 10:45 have a higher tolerance for risk and they're more  
  • 10:50 used to the specifics of working in emerging 
  • 10:50 markets. So tho those are sort of big picture.
  • 10:56 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 10:56 Now, when it comes to more detail,  
  • 10:59 I think some of the stuff that we are doing 
  • 10:59 or we are looking at are very actively it's,  
  • 11:05 I think, regional power trade. We think this 
  • 11:05 is something that makes a lot of sense in  
  • 11:10 South Asia, that it can help the energy 
  • 11:10 matrix of some countries. It can make up  
  • 11:18 for some of the deficiencies in... In 
  • 11:18 some countries you don't have either  
  • 11:22 natural conditions, or enough space, or the wind 
  • 11:22 to do more renewables, but you do have in other  
  • 11:27 countries. You have hydro in some, you have... 
  • 11:27 So I think you can play with that and build. But  
  • 11:34 to do that, you need to have a working regional 
  • 11:34 power trade sort of a structure and regulation.
  • 11:40 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 11:40 So this is something that we've been working  
  • 11:43 together with the bank, but also with private 
  • 11:43 companies. So for instance, as we speak, we are  
  • 11:49 discussing with two large groups to essentially to 
  • 11:49 build a cross-border power trade by putting assets  
  • 12:00 on one side and sort of the usage on the other 
  • 12:00 side, because we believe that it's only by doing  
  • 12:09 that, then these models will be replicated. 
  • 12:09 So we are working together to support that.
  • 12:14 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 12:14 I think the other piece is  
  • 12:18 transport connectivity. So transport, probably 
  • 12:18 the most emblematic stuff that we're doing is  
  • 12:24 around port terminals, that would then connected 
  • 12:24 to multimodal, whether it's railways or roads,  
  • 12:31 can actually provide access to supports to 
  • 12:31 some countries. So this is the other play.
  • 12:38 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 12:38 I think there is,  
  • 12:40 and I'm just going to go a little bit 
  • 12:40 outside of the whole trade thing, I think  
  • 12:45 on the challenges side, part of the solutions 
  • 12:45 that we see for climate change in the region are  
  • 12:52 going to have to be regional. 
  • 12:52 That's the other piece.
  • 12:57 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 12:57 And then I think on the  
  • 12:59 South-South, which is essentially supporting 
  • 12:59 companies to go to other markets, we've  
  • 13:04 been very much engaged, but I think we have a lot 
  • 13:04 of room to grow. So, I mean, I can mention some  
  • 13:12 companies, but it tends to be mostly from 
  • 13:12 South Asia going into Africa, for instance,  
  • 13:19 it's something that we've done a lot. We've done 
  • 13:19 a lot of leading Asian companies coming into or  
  • 13:24 investing into South Asia from outside 
  • 13:24 of the region, but very few actually  
  • 13:30 within South Asia. And I think this 
  • 13:30 is what we see as an opportunity here.
  • 13:34 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 13:34 Some of the stuff that we think is going to come  
  • 13:36 up, and we have very high hopes that it will be 
  • 13:36 a lot of intra-South Asian opportunities. I think  
  • 13:43 one is private equity and venture capital. We have 
  • 13:43 an experience, a global experience, where these  
  • 13:50 type of investors tend to want to have sort 
  • 13:50 of a regional scope. It helps diversify risk,  
  • 13:58 it helps open up more markets. So we are really 
  • 13:58 looking into it, particularly on the tech side.  
  • 14:05 For instance, the whole play in Sri Lanka 
  • 14:05 would be around using Sri Lanka technology or  
  • 14:13 startups to actually enter the larger 
  • 14:13 markets in the region, for instance,  
  • 14:17 just to oversimplify. That's 
  • 14:17 the kind of play that we see.
  • 14:20 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 14:20 Digital connectivity, we think it has to be a  
  • 14:25 regional play. I think there are some 
  • 14:25 emerging businesses that we hope that they...  
  • 14:32 because they're new and they come 
  • 14:32 without baggage to a certain extent,  
  • 14:34 that they develop in a more regional way 
  • 14:34 following the logic. But then of course,  
  • 14:39 we need to work on the enabling environment, 
  • 14:39 hopefully we can get to talk about that,  
  • 14:43 like electric vehicles, right? So 
  • 14:43 that's coming, or it's here already.  
  • 14:47 And we are hoping and working and engaging, so 
  • 14:47 it hopefully develops in a more regional way.
  • 14:52 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 14:52 Housing, we believe... I mean,  
  • 14:56 it's an industry that we've seen in other 
  • 14:56 regions developing at the regional level.
  • 15:00 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 15:00 And then I guess the  
  • 15:02 final one I'll mention is capital markets. So 
  • 15:02 capital markets tends to be really on a national  
  • 15:09 level. But in some agents, and I 
  • 15:09 think there is a logic to do it,  
  • 15:13 if not the operation of the capital markets but 
  • 15:13 the use of funds and companies from one country  
  • 15:18 issuing in another country, I think that's 
  • 15:18 something that has a lot of logic in South Asia.
  • 15:22 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 15:22 I'll stop there.
  • 15:23 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 15:23 Thank you.
  • 15:23 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 15:23 Right, right.
  • 15:25 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 15:25 Thank you, Hector, and thank  
  • 15:26 you for articulating these opportunities and it's 
  • 15:26 quite a hopeful outlook you've portrayed there.
  • 15:31 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 15:31 Fareena, we're going to move to you.  
  • 15:35 And it's interesting in this report, it documents 
  • 15:35 that actually Pakistan has been investing quite  
  • 15:40 a lot in the region and Pakistan's earliest 
  • 15:40 intra-regional investment goes way back to 1951,  
  • 15:46 a banking branch of the Habib Bank in Sri Lanka. 
  • 15:46 So over the years, can you tell us what has been  
  • 15:53 the trajectory of Pakistan supporting inward 
  • 15:53 and outward-bound investments from the region  
  • 15:58 and into the region? And post-COVID, do you see 
  • 15:58 any changes? What's the future going to look like?
  • 16:03 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 16:03 Over to you.
  • 16:04 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 16:04 Thank you so much,  
  • 16:07 thank you for giving me this opportunity 
  • 16:07 to be talking to this forum today.
  • 16:11 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 16:11 I would like to say that  
  • 16:16 originally Pakistan did not have a very liberal 
  • 16:16 investment regime. They had restricted sectors  
  • 16:22 which were open for investment. But since 1976, we 
  • 16:22 opened up and we started promulgating new acts and  
  • 16:32 ordinances allowing investments in all sectors. So 
  • 16:32 at the moment we are following a liberal regime.  
  • 16:41 Then in 2013 also a policy was introduced, which 
  • 16:41 opened up all the sectors for investments, except  
  • 16:50 for agriculture, banking, I think, aviation. Other 
  • 16:50 than that, all sectors are open for the economy.
  • 16:59 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 16:59 So Pakistan, unfortunately, has not been receiving  
  • 17:04 the amount of foreign direct investments, 
  • 17:04 which I genuinely believe that it deserves.  
  • 17:11 Primarily, it has been a victim of terrorism. 
  • 17:11 People have been scared to come to the country.  
  • 17:21 Now, the issue is somewhat resolved. And other 
  • 17:21 than that, we did have energy shortages in the  
  • 17:28 past. So they did also have... That was an 
  • 17:28 impediment for the investors to be coming  
  • 17:34 and investing in Pakistan. But fortunately, 
  • 17:34 we've overcome both these issues. And now our  
  • 17:41 liberal investment regimes, which allows 100% 
  • 17:41 repatriation of profits and investment in any  
  • 17:49 sector without any gap regarding the minimum or 
  • 17:49 the maximum investments. And I think it's one  
  • 17:58 of the most liberal regimes in the world. And we 
  • 17:58 are hoping to get new investments in the country.
  • 18:04 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 18:04 Fortunately, we've not been hit by COVID as bad  
  • 18:07 as other countries, especially in Europe, and that 
  • 18:07 has not affected our inward investments in the  
  • 18:16 way it did for other countries. And we are almost 
  • 18:16 close to the post-COVID numbers right now. And we  
  • 18:25 are hoping that new investors, which have promised 
  • 18:25 us... They've asked for certain incentives,  
  • 18:33 we will be giving them those incentives 
  • 18:33 and they will also be coming to Pakistan.
  • 18:37 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 18:37 We have a very liberal,  
  • 18:41 special economic zones regime, which offers 
  • 18:41 a 10 years exemption on income. And also,  
  • 18:49 you can import the plant and machinery free of 
  • 18:49 duties and taxes, so these are the main incentives  
  • 18:55 in the special economic zones. Also, we have 
  • 18:55 sectoral policies to encourage our investments.  
  • 19:02 We have an electronic vehicle policy in place. 
  • 19:02 We have the mobile manufacturing policies.  
  • 19:08 And we've given massive incentives for the 
  • 19:08 export sector, providing them loans on very low  
  • 19:16 interest. And this government especially is laying 
  • 19:16 a lot of focus on the ease of doing business. And  
  • 19:25 I think everybody will be appreciating that we 
  • 19:25 improved 39 positions in the last two years when  
  • 19:32 the report on ease of doing business was there. 
  • 19:32 And unfortunately, the report discontinued this  
  • 19:41 year, we were hoping for further increases 
  • 19:41 in jump in the positions because we had made  
  • 19:47 massive reforms in that context and we had... 
  • 19:47 just to invite investors in the country,  
  • 19:54 we are trying to make all possible 
  • 19:54 facilitation measures which we can.
  • 20:00 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 20:00 We have a new investment law,  
  • 20:06 the draft is already there, it just 
  • 20:06 needs the approval from the parliament.  
  • 20:10 And that too creates opportunities for dispute 
  • 20:10 resolution, which we think is another going to be  
  • 20:16 a very big focus for the local and the foreign 
  • 20:16 investors, and something of interest to them.
  • 20:25 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 20:25 Pakistan is offering  
  • 20:33 around 180 billion is a one time emergency 
  • 20:33 cash grant to 15 million beneficiaries.  
  • 20:43 So this was the Ehsaas program of the government. 
  • 20:43 This was a major initiative in the COVID times  
  • 20:50 just to come up and meet the challenges of the 
  • 20:50 COVID and to help the poor people of the country,  
  • 20:57 especially the labor class. This has 
  • 20:57 proven to be a very big incentive for the  
  • 21:06 businesses to recover. Also, for the small 
  • 21:06 and medium companies, there's a special  
  • 21:12 finance package and a special regime for taxation 
  • 21:12 just to facilitate them come out of the COVID.
  • 21:20 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 21:20 So Pakistan, unfortunately, does not have a lot of  
  • 21:26 investments within the region. We do have a 
  • 21:26 bank and our another company has invested,  
  • 21:35 Soorty, in Bangladesh, in the denim manufacturing, 
  • 21:35 but we do not... We encourage their investments  
  • 21:44 outwards also. And the foreign exchange manual, it 
  • 21:44 has recently undergone a lot of changes and it has  
  • 21:53 made investments in the region, both inward 
  • 21:53 and outward, very friendly and easy to do.
  • 21:59 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 21:59 So this is what I  
  • 22:01 wanted to share with you on this account.
  • 22:03 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 22:03 Right. Thank you very much,  
  • 22:05 Fareena. And I think what you described is 
  • 22:05 very significant progress and progression  
  • 22:11 and still room to grow inter-regionally clearly.
  • 22:15 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 22:15 Yeah.
  • 22:16 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 22:16 Wonderful.
  • 22:17 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 22:17 Ahsan, your company is the largest  
  • 22:20 food and beverage conglomerate in Bangladesh. 
  • 22:20 And in 2008, you opened your first production  
  • 22:26 facility in Tripura, India after the Indian 
  • 22:26 government lifted the ban on FDI from Bangladesh.  
  • 22:32 And India today is one of your largest 
  • 22:32 markets. This year you even started using  
  • 22:37 the river route to export goods to India. So 
  • 22:37 can you tell us about this experience of moving  
  • 22:43 into India and what future investment 
  • 22:43 prospects you have for the region?
  • 22:49 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 22:49 Thank you very much for  
  • 22:51 giving me the opportunity to talk.
  • 22:53 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 22:53 First of all, my experience in India has been  
  • 22:55 extremely positive. And I tell you, like according 
  • 22:55 from Sanjay [Hindi 00:23:01] talk, I feel the  
  • 23:01 opportunities in the regional trade is very high. 
  • 23:01 And again, referring to Sanjay [Hindi 00:23:06], I  
  • 23:07 will say that after COVID, it's a new world in 
  • 23:07 our part of the region. I feel that subcontinent  
  • 23:13 is going to grow and COVID has given us tremendous 
  • 23:13 amount of, say, boost in terms of the consumption,  
  • 23:20 and tremendous amount of energy, and 
  • 23:20 tremendous amount of reciprocity in the region.
  • 23:26 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 23:26 So when we started, I feel that  
  • 23:31 people have a lot of stereotypes, so people 
  • 23:31 did not know what the investment in India  
  • 23:36 is going to be and whether our regulator 
  • 23:36 is going to allow. So it was very tough,  
  • 23:41 but once we were there, I feel the experience 
  • 23:41 were very positive. And I feel that  
  • 23:49 we kind of like found a new consumer 
  • 23:49 market out there. And the buoyancy that  
  • 23:56 Sanjay [Hindi 00:23:57] was talking about in 
  • 23:56 his report also, buoyancy for the world trade,  
  • 24:00 I feel that we find it in the region. If you ask 
  • 24:00 me about PRAN's experience, I would say that-
  • 24:06 [Cecile Fruman]: 
  • 24:14 Oops, it looks like we've lost-
  • 24:16 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 24:16 ... tremendous amount...
  • 24:17 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 24:17 Oh.
  • 24:18 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]: 
  • 24:19 I feel that tremendous amount of 
  • 24:19 opportunity is coming from the region,  
  • 24:23 and the buoyancy is huge. And I feel that it's 
  • 24:23 mainly a mindset game. And from the regulator  
  • 24:30 side, it is lack of understanding. And I feel 
  • 24:30 that this foreign currency manual that madam  
  • 24:35 was referring to, we had the same problem in 
  • 24:35 Bangladesh where our regulators also had to  
  • 24:40 refer and Indian regulators also had to refer to 
  • 24:40 those foreign currency manuals or the regulation  
  • 24:45 that they had, which were backed for 40 years. 
  • 24:45 And I think that Sanjay [Hindi 00:24:51] idea  
  • 24:51 is that there's a new opportunity that the 
  • 24:51 business people would like to experience.  
  • 24:55 And I feel that there is tremendous amount 
  • 24:55 of opportunity in the region if people are  
  • 25:00 just able to have an open mindset and people 
  • 25:00 are becoming a little bit outwardly in terms  
  • 25:06 of what they want to explore. I think there's a 
  • 25:06 wonderful world out there that has to be explored.
  • 25:10 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 25:10 And I think the business prospect is going  
  • 25:13 to come from our regional trade and post-COVID 
  • 25:13 buoyancy that Sanjay [Hindi 00:25:18] was talking  
  • 25:18 about through his report, I'm sure we are 
  • 25:18 going to find that in our regional markets.
  • 25:23 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 25:23 Thank you very much.
  • 25:27 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 25:27 Great.
  • 25:27 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 25:27 Ahsan,  
  • 25:28 and any plans to expand further in the region?
  • 25:30 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 25:30 I have got too many plans, and I think my friends  
  • 25:34 in IFC and my friends in the regional market gets 
  • 25:34 very nervous when I start telling my plans. I can  
  • 25:39 tell you... So we started with Northeast part of 
  • 25:39 India. We have opened up in Eastern part of India.  
  • 25:44 We've got a factory in Calcutta, we are setting 
  • 25:44 up Siliguri. We are going to be in the south,  
  • 25:50 southern part of India in a place called Tumkur. 
  • 25:50 We are in north in Uttarakhand. And India,  
  • 25:55 I don't consider to be a country, 
  • 25:55 I consider it to be a continent. So  
  • 25:58 for a small company called PRAN operating from 
  • 25:58 Bangladesh, India is a world out there which  
  • 26:03 we are there to explore. And Nepal is also not 
  • 26:03 very far away. Thanks to the Nepal government  
  • 26:09 that they imposed almost a 100% duty on all PRAN 
  • 26:09 products coming into the Nepal, and I feel that  
  • 26:14 that was one of the best thing that could have 
  • 26:14 happened to PRAN that we were able to start up  
  • 26:19 almost like three plants in a matter of one year 
  • 26:19 in Nepal. So Nepal business is looking good.
  • 26:25 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 26:25 Again, so with Taliban  
  • 26:27 coming into the government in Afghanistan, 
  • 26:27 we were exporting a lot of products in  
  • 26:31 Afghanistan, but no problem. After there 
  • 26:31 is a new change in thought in Afghanistan,  
  • 26:37 we are able to start, hopefully, the 
  • 26:37 local manufacturing, doing contracting out  
  • 26:41 with some local Afghan people and able to 
  • 26:41 have the product available for the consumers,  
  • 26:46 even in the Afghan market. And I feel that our 
  • 26:46 duty structures between Bangladesh and Pakistan  
  • 26:53 will improve after we have a chance to explain 
  • 26:53 to madam, maybe the duties will come down and  
  • 26:57 we'll be able to do more business with Pakistan 
  • 26:57 and be able to connect more and more regionally.
  • 27:02 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 27:02 Great, Ahsan, great to see you so upbeat.
  • 27:06 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 27:06 So, Fareena, maybe a good  
  • 27:09 segue to come back to you, what you described 
  • 27:09 is a real effort to liberalize and attract  
  • 27:16 FDI globally. Can you tell us a little bit more, 
  • 27:16 do you have any specific focus on the region,  
  • 27:22 any activities or policies? And also talk to us 
  • 27:22 a little bit about support for women investors,  
  • 27:29 women looking to bring investments into 
  • 27:29 Pakistan, or invest outside of Pakistan.
  • 27:37 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 27:37 As far as our policies are concerned,  
  • 27:41 they are just the same policy for everyone. 
  • 27:41 It's no specific policy for any specific region  
  • 27:49 as of now. And unfortunately, no specific 
  • 27:49 incentive for the women also. At the moment,  
  • 27:56 it's generally the same. But there's no impediment 
  • 27:56 also. We do not bar women from entering certain  
  • 28:02 services or certain sectors. So it's the same 
  • 28:02 policy for everyone, which I again say is very  
  • 28:09 liberal. It's the same regime for the local as 
  • 28:09 well as the foreign investor. Everyone, anyone,  
  • 28:16 can come and invest. The Board of Investment 
  • 28:16 serves as the one window and anyone who wants  
  • 28:23 to seek in investment opportunity, we have a 
  • 28:23 project's portal running where you have all the  
  • 28:31 listed projects coming from the government, and 
  • 28:31 they are also there with the timelines. And you  
  • 28:37 can see which sector you want to invest in, or the 
  • 28:37 amount that you can invest in. And then we take  
  • 28:43 them from there and we also follow them up for any 
  • 28:43 assistance or facilitation which they may require.
  • 28:51 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 28:51 And then we have these offices in the provincial  
  • 28:57 set ups, because Pakistan is a Federation, we 
  • 28:57 have a central government and the provincial  
  • 29:04 governments, and then the local governments. So we 
  • 29:04 have business regulations at three levels. It, at  
  • 29:10 times, becomes very cumbersome for the investors 
  • 29:10 to come and invest in the country. But the reforms  
  • 29:16 that we are doing in respect of these business 
  • 29:16 regulations are at all three tiers. So the Board  
  • 29:23 of Investment is working on setting up Pakistan 
  • 29:23 business portal, which is going to be a state of  
  • 29:29 the art one window stop shop for all the local 
  • 29:29 as well as the international investors. Through  
  • 29:36 the portal you can see which sector requires 
  • 29:36 which regulations, and if you want to start a  
  • 29:43 business in any particular region in a country, 
  • 29:43 what are the laws applicable there? What is the  
  • 29:51 availability of land and other usages? You 
  • 29:51 can do everything, make online payments...  
  • 29:59 So the system will be ready in a year and a half, 
  • 29:59 by June, 2023. So we are really hoping that this  
  • 30:06 will be bring a big boost to our investment regime 
  • 30:06 and will be a big facilitator for the investors.
  • 30:14 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 30:14 Next to that, I think  
  • 30:20 we have these special economic zones, but there 
  • 30:20 are four economic zones under the China-Pakistan  
  • 30:27 economic corridor. I'd like to mention that these 
  • 30:27 CPEC SECs are not just specific to China. They're  
  • 30:34 open to anyone in the world, any investor, 
  • 30:34 either local or foreign, they can come and they  
  • 30:41 can invest there. And the government has taken up 
  • 30:41 the responsibility of funding them with the proper  
  • 30:51 utilities, water, electricity, gas. And 
  • 30:51 it's a plug in play kind of a situation.
  • 30:58 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 30:58 And I would say  
  • 30:59 that this COVID where it has created so many 
  • 30:59 problems, it has also created opportunities,  
  • 31:04 and it has created opportunities in the service 
  • 31:04 sector specifically. We've seen around 500 million  
  • 31:12 investment coming just in the 
  • 31:12 startups, in the service sector,  
  • 31:15 in the country, in the first 10 months of 
  • 31:15 this year. This is a good news. And also,  
  • 31:26 since Pakistan was not that badly hit, there 
  • 31:26 are many international investors who are looking  
  • 31:31 towards Pakistan for starting their new ventures. 
  • 31:31 So we are hoping that with this new regime,  
  • 31:39 we will get a lot of opportunity 
  • 31:39 for these new investors.
  • 31:43 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 31:43 Samsung has recently announced that they will  
  • 31:46 be setting up a plant in Pakistan and Uniqlo from 
  • 31:46 Japan is coming over. And we already have around  
  • 31:53 1000 investors. And I would like to mention that 
  • 31:53 whoever comes to Pakistan, never leaves Pakistan,  
  • 32:00 they're quite satisfied. They get good rate 
  • 32:00 of return on the investments that they make.  
  • 32:06 But just to start off is the primary thing.
  • 32:10 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 32:10 And we'd really want a good mix of investments  
  • 32:14 from all over the world, not just China, but from 
  • 32:14 all over the world and especially South Asia and  
  • 32:23 this region. And we are hoping that... As of now, 
  • 32:23 the volumes are very low. The volumes of trade  
  • 32:30 and investment from these region is low. And 
  • 32:30 I would say it's basically a political reason,  
  • 32:39 which is behind this. And I hope the situation in 
  • 32:39 Afghanistan gets better, and the situation also,  
  • 32:47 because people then would be more comfortable 
  • 32:47 coming to Pakistan and making investments here.
  • 32:52 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 32:52 Great, thank you, Fareena. And it  
  • 32:56 seems that our Ahsan's going to come knocking on 
  • 32:56 your door very soon for some opportunities there.
  • 33:00 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 33:00 Sure.
  • 33:00 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 33:00 So before I go back to Ahsan,  
  • 33:03 Sanjay, can you tell us a little 
  • 33:03 bit about how this report looks so  
  • 33:08 comprehensively at the investment landscape in 
  • 33:08 the region and what you found to be the most  
  • 33:14 restrictive policies that deter intra-regional 
  • 33:14 investments? And what would your suggestions  
  • 33:20 be on what should be changed quickest and 
  • 33:20 also what incentives will this require?
  • 33:25 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 33:25 Over to you.
  • 33:26 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 33:26 Thank you. Thank you.
  • 33:29 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 33:29 So I think I will talk  
  • 33:30 both of inward and outward investment because 
  • 33:30 they are, in a sense, a part of firm strategies,  
  • 33:38 both are equally important when we 
  • 33:38 talk of intra-regional investments.
  • 33:43 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 33:43 So let's start with the  
  • 33:46 outward foreign investment group, we use OFDI 
  • 33:46 shorthand. So I think there are the restrictions  
  • 33:54 on outward FDI in the region in South Asia are 
  • 33:54 strong in most countries, except India and, to  
  • 34:01 some extent, Sri Lanka. So I think our report, our 
  • 34:01 authors, all of us believe that this is really an  
  • 34:07 anachronism in today's day and age. The mindset, 
  • 34:07 which Ahsan also referred to, this is mindset  
  • 34:15 of the '70s, of the '60s and '70s where we had 
  • 34:15 issues like foreign exchange shortages and lack of  
  • 34:23 free flow of capital. We live 
  • 34:23 in a very different world today.
  • 34:27 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 34:27 Let me give just some  
  • 34:28 highlights of the restrictions that we have 
  • 34:28 detailed a lot in the report, but for example,  
  • 34:35 there is lack of transparency in outward 
  • 34:35 investment regimes. So this is a big problem. So  
  • 34:42 in Afghanistan and the Maldives, for example, 
  • 34:42 there is no explicit mention of outward investment  
  • 34:47 in the national laws. In Bhutan, there is 
  • 34:47 permission needed from the Royal Monetary  
  • 34:54 authority and the Ministry of Finance to 
  • 34:54 hold foreign assets, foreign securities,  
  • 35:00 and the Ministry of Finance and Industry 
  • 35:00 regulate the establishment of business ventures  
  • 35:05 abroad. But again, there is not enough detail if 
  • 35:05 somebody really wants to start going about this.
  • 35:11 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 35:11 Nepal has been a very interesting case because  
  • 35:16 there is an act restricting foreign investment 
  • 35:16 abroad since 1964, it prohibits actually outward  
  • 35:22 investment. But the Foreign Exchange Regulation 
  • 35:22 Act of 2019, clause 4A, allows non-resident  
  • 35:31 Nepalese to retain investments while earning money 
  • 35:31 abroad. And this is a loophole that has been used  
  • 35:40 to invest overseas by some Nepali investors. But 
  • 35:40 it shouldn't have to be this way, is the point.
  • 35:48 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 35:48 In Bangladesh, which has been again quite  
  • 35:52 active. Apart from PRAN, many other companies 
  • 35:52 have been looking both in the region and globally.  
  • 36:00 There was a lot of restrictions until September, 
  • 36:00 2015 when the Foreign Exchange Act was amended.  
  • 36:09 And then in 2018, the government waived 
  • 36:09 mandatory permissions from Bangladesh Bank.  
  • 36:17 But even so, this was for opening just small 
  • 36:17 liaison offices. And to date, it is still the  
  • 36:25 point. The point to remember is that it is still 
  • 36:25 discretionary and the mindset does remain that we  
  • 36:32 are not in the business of outward investment 
  • 36:32 as such. It is still very much of a  
  • 36:38 inward... the whole mindset attracting 
  • 36:38 inward investment in Bangladesh not being  
  • 36:44 at the stage of a big overseas investment 
  • 36:44 player, which we think is antithetical to  
  • 36:49 where developments are taking and the 
  • 36:49 entrepreneurial spirit of Bangladeshi investors.
  • 36:54 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 36:54 In Pakistan, all outward investments  
  • 36:57 are subject to approval by The State Bank of 
  • 36:57 Pakistan, which is fine. But again, there hasn't  
  • 37:04 been much happening, as Fareena also reminded us. 
  • 37:04 In terms of inward policies, now let me just come  
  • 37:13 quickly to inward policies, the problem in the 
  • 37:13 region is that actual investment on the ground  
  • 37:21 is very different from the policies that 
  • 37:21 are on paper, so devil is in the detail.  
  • 37:28 There are onerous sector restrictions that take 
  • 37:28 place. Regime look great on paper, but once we  
  • 37:34 start looking at actual investment possibilities 
  • 37:34 in specific sectors, I think things don't look so  
  • 37:41 rosy. And these, of course, affect all investment, 
  • 37:41 not just investment from within South Asia.
  • 37:49 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 37:49 Let me also speak to some  
  • 37:51 specific regional aspect of inward investment. So 
  • 37:51 India has had some kinds of restrictions in place  
  • 37:59 in terms of currency and so on. But currently, the 
  • 37:59 most germane restriction in India regionally is  
  • 38:06 on those countries that share a land border with 
  • 38:06 India or where the investment in India is situated  
  • 38:14 in, or is a citizen of such a country which has 
  • 38:14 a land border with India, they need to go through  
  • 38:20 government route. That means government needs 
  • 38:20 to approve inward investment as opposed to the  
  • 38:24 so-called automatic route. This is a 
  • 38:24 sort of regional aspect of investment.
  • 38:31 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 38:31 So Cecile, you asked about  
  • 38:32 what are the incentives to change? I think 
  • 38:32 this is very important today and I think  
  • 38:39 dynamic entrepreneurs, like what we have on our 
  • 38:39 panel today represented by Ahsan and PRAN, I think  
  • 38:46 they need the freedom to operate as the logic of 
  • 38:46 competitiveness. The logic of international trade  
  • 38:54 remains as strong as ever, not withstanding all 
  • 38:54 the noises globally. You need to be a part of...
  • 38:59 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 38:59 So today, in order to be competitive and agile,  
  • 39:04 especially including in crisis situations such 
  • 39:04 as the ones we've faced over the last two years,  
  • 39:09 a firm must have at its command all possibilities 
  • 39:09 of imports, exports, being able to receive FDI  
  • 39:17 or engage in outward FDI. And government 
  • 39:17 policies do need to understand this.  
  • 39:25 Restrictive, yes, we understand that restrictive 
  • 39:25 outward investment policies are driven by  
  • 39:30 balance of payments concerns, but our report 
  • 39:30 argues that even for small economies and even  
  • 39:36 for those with such concerns, gradually relaxing 
  • 39:36 outward investment restrictions is important,  
  • 39:43 both from a competitiveness standpoint, as well 
  • 39:43 as for the need to be agile in a crisis situation.  
  • 39:50 And this can be done gradually as 
  • 39:50 indeed Bangladesh has started doing  
  • 39:54 slowly. But we would, of course, argue 
  • 39:54 that it needs to go beyond case by case.
  • 39:59 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 39:59 There need to be some sort  
  • 40:00 of general rules whereby firms don't necessarily 
  • 40:00 need to go to the authorities for approval. And it  
  • 40:08 can be done within a framework, a macroeconomic 
  • 40:08 framework that allows appropriate reporting and  
  • 40:16 feedback mechanisms, and so on. But OFDI... So 
  • 40:16 the big point here is that outward investment  
  • 40:23 in today's day and age is as 
  • 40:23 important for firms remaining  
  • 40:28 competitive and agile in crisis and both in 
  • 40:28 normal situations, because they are two sides  
  • 40:34 of the same coin. And this is something that we 
  • 40:34 go at great lengths in the report to talk about.
  • 40:39 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 40:39 Thank you.
  • 40:40 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 40:40 Great. Super, Sanjay.
  • 40:43 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 40:43 So, Ahsan, can you  
  • 40:45 tell us from your personal experience, what are 
  • 40:45 some of the key restrictions that you faced in  
  • 40:50 trying to invest in the region? And 
  • 40:50 if you had your way, what are those  
  • 40:56 that you would want to see changed to 
  • 40:56 facilitate investments in the region?
  • 41:01 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 41:01 I would say the... I think Sanjay  
  • 41:04 [Hindi 00:41:04] reports has already covered 
  • 41:04 quite a bit. So one of our biggest challenge was  
  • 41:08 getting an approval from our regulators 
  • 41:08 here in Bangladesh. I think what Sanjay  
  • 41:13 [Hindi 00:41:13] also mentioned, so there's land 
  • 41:13 border issue. Since we are very close neighbors,  
  • 41:17 the approval process is a little bit 
  • 41:17 complicated that we had to face in India.  
  • 41:22 But I feel that, like I said, regardless 
  • 41:22 of whatever challenges that we have  
  • 41:26 with our regulators, I think there is a more 
  • 41:26 holistic thing behind. I feel it's a stereotype,  
  • 41:32 it's a lack of understanding that we don't 
  • 41:32 have as human beings trusting our neighbors  
  • 41:36 more than... We feel that when we want to talk 
  • 41:36 about export, let's go to North America, let's  
  • 41:41 go to Europe. That's the preconceived thinking 
  • 41:41 that people have in our part of the world that  
  • 41:46 probably doing regional trade is probably 
  • 41:46 not the most sensible thing to do.
  • 41:49 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 41:49 I think it is how people get more and  
  • 41:51 more educated. And, again, thanks to COVID that 
  • 41:51 it is training us new things for the new world.  
  • 41:58 And Sanjay [Hindi 00:41:59] mentioned about 
  • 41:58 higher container freight, and this is such a  
  • 42:02 strong reason... In order to have food security 
  • 42:02 for a small country like Bangladesh, I feel that  
  • 42:07 we have to integrate with our Northeastern part 
  • 42:07 of India neighbor that we have. It's going to  
  • 42:12 give them automatic access to our market, which is 
  • 42:12 beautiful market called Bangladesh, which is going  
  • 42:17 to change completely the agriculture landscape of 
  • 42:17 people in Northeastern part of India who do not  
  • 42:23 have any export possibilities if they don't come 
  • 42:23 into Bangladesh. And I feel that countries need  
  • 42:29 to really, really understand the requirements of 
  • 42:29 general citizens like us, that it is the business  
  • 42:36 people that have to connect because for hundreds 
  • 42:36 of years, say, our countries were the same.  
  • 42:41 We were connecting and our regional business 
  • 42:41 were backbone of our livelihood. So, Afghans  
  • 42:48 were operating in Bangladesh maybe 300 years ago, 
  • 42:48 say before our generations were in this world.
  • 42:54 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 42:54 So I feel that the time has come when,  
  • 42:56 after COVID, in order to have food security, we 
  • 42:56 have to reach out to Meghalaya, and we have to  
  • 43:01 see how we can use the land-man ratio of Meghalaya 
  • 43:01 to see how we can feed the Bangladeshis because  
  • 43:08 Australian grain and Canadian grain is not able 
  • 43:08 to reach us during COVID because the freight  
  • 43:12 prices are shot up so high, and inexpensive 
  • 43:12 imports coming in from China will not be able to  
  • 43:19 feed the requirements of a great nation called 
  • 43:19 India. So I feel that it's the neighbors like  
  • 43:24 us which will reach out to bigger markets 
  • 43:24 like India. And it's also, it is the rule  
  • 43:30 of the economy will start playing. And I think the 
  • 43:30 rules of the government will have to play a role.
  • 43:34 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 43:34 And government will have to look into bigger  
  • 43:38 things rather than trying to restrict its nations 
  • 43:38 or citizens to do business among ourselves,  
  • 43:43 and we have to go back 300 years ago and we have 
  • 43:43 to do more business with our regional neighbors.  
  • 43:49 And I would say that that is how the world was, 
  • 43:49 and we have to go back to the world because  
  • 43:54 it's a post-COVID new world out here. So it's 
  • 43:54 just a chain that is coming into the world today.
  • 43:59 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 43:59 Thank you.
  • 43:59 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 43:59 Yeah. Thanks, Ahsan. I think really  
  • 44:02 that important point that it's as much as about 
  • 44:02 mindset as it is about policies and regulations.
  • 44:07 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 44:07 So on this topic, Hector, I'm going to turn  
  • 44:11 back to you. You've had the opportunity to serve 
  • 44:11 in other regions. You've worked in Latin America  
  • 44:18 and Africa, and both are regions that actually 
  • 44:18 have higher levels of intra-regional trade and  
  • 44:23 investment. What makes those investments more 
  • 44:23 attractive in those regions? And what are some  
  • 44:28 of the lessons that we could draw for South Asia, 
  • 44:28 any experience that you want to bring to bear?
  • 44:32 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 44:32 Thanks. Thanks, Cecile.
  • 44:36 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 44:36 Just a note to maybe  
  • 44:38 agree with Sanjay on the importance of the outward 
  • 44:38 regulation or investments. And then I guess the  
  • 44:47 other point that Ahsan mentioned it, it fits right 
  • 44:47 into my view. On the regions I work, I worked  
  • 44:55 in Latin America, in Africa mostly... But maybe 
  • 44:55 just taking a step back, the report that Sanjay  
  • 45:01 and colleagues... so they identify there are three 
  • 45:01 or four main things, which I think were pretty  
  • 45:07 much summarized just now, which is there's a lack 
  • 45:07 of trust generally between countries. There is a  
  • 45:14 lack or low market knowledge. Then there's poor 
  • 45:14 infrastructure that tends to be in all countries,  
  • 45:18 it's not a privilege of South Asia. Protected 
  • 45:18 markets and very unfavorable FDI regimes.
  • 45:25 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 45:25 So if you look through that lens,  
  • 45:27 which I think is a very good framework 
  • 45:27 to look into the other regions...  
  • 45:32 For instance, you come to Latin America... And 
  • 45:32 I don't want to paint here that Latin America,  
  • 45:37 it should be the poster child. But I think 
  • 45:37 regional integration is a journey, and probably  
  • 45:44 Latin America is a little bit ahead. That's how I 
  • 45:44 would put it. I think there is more knowledge and  
  • 45:52 trust among countries for historical reasons, for 
  • 45:52 language reasons, because these countries became  
  • 45:58 independent 50, 100, 150 years ago. So there's a 
  • 45:58 longer process. I think that's one big difference.
  • 46:06 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 46:06 I think the other is,  
  • 46:07 these are countries generally in 
  • 46:07 Latin America that are very...  
  • 46:11 How can I put it?... They have very low tariffs, 
  • 46:11 so they have slowly used to trade with each  
  • 46:17 other and trade with the U.S., which is the big 
  • 46:17 gorilla in the region, and with Europe as well.  
  • 46:27 So they've been very much open to FDI. And there 
  • 46:27 are very few restrictions to outward investment,  
  • 46:34 this is the other key piece in Latin America. 
  • 46:34 There are very few countries that actually  
  • 46:38 have some sort of restriction to where their  
  • 46:43 companies invest. I think the fact that in 
  • 46:43 Latin America you've had multinationals for many  
  • 46:49 decades also creates a different sort of 
  • 46:49 a competitive [inaudible 00:46:55], right?
  • 46:58 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 46:58 And if you look at how this has played out is  
  • 47:02 I think it also has to do with the type of 
  • 47:02 products that Latin America produces. So it's  
  • 47:07 big on mineral resources. It's big on agricultural 
  • 47:07 resources that by nature are tradable and you need  
  • 47:13 to have an international view to this. But 
  • 47:13 also, there are a lot [inaudible 00:47:18],  
  • 47:19 right? So Latin America has really become 
  • 47:19 a region that in many cases it manufactures  
  • 47:26 very little of what it consumes and it 
  • 47:26 exports services and it trades services. So  
  • 47:32 this has created, for instance, some phenomena 
  • 47:32 that we as IFC have actually supported, which is  
  • 47:37 banking. So banks in Latin America, you have 
  • 47:37 the Brazilian Banks have expressive presence  
  • 47:43 in the rest of Latin America. The Colombian Banks 
  • 47:43 have a very relevant presence in Central America.  
  • 47:51 So banking following local companies and 
  • 47:51 taking advantage of sort of free regulations.
  • 47:58 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 47:58 But this is a process,  
  • 48:00 if we having this conversation 20 years ago, 
  • 48:00 you would see that most of these countries  
  • 48:05 would be basically looking at the U.S. In the case 
  • 48:05 of Mexico, for instance, they would be looking at  
  • 48:09 U.S. And even a country like Mexico there is still 
  • 48:09 80%, 85% of its trade is really with the U.S.  
  • 48:17 They just cannot diversify away. It's a process. 
  • 48:17 So I think that's one lesson in the sense that  
  • 48:26 the items identified by the report 
  • 48:26 which we're mentioning, the trust,  
  • 48:32 the knowledge, the [inaudible 00:48:37] 
  • 48:32 FDI regimes. I think that's one.
  • 48:39 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 48:39 I think in the case of Africa, it's a complete  
  • 48:42 different play in my view. First of all, it's 
  • 48:42 many countries. So in South Asia you have, to a  
  • 48:49 certain extent, a very small number of countries. 
  • 48:49 But in Africa, one of the paradox is that you have  
  • 48:54 a lot of countries, but it feels like they have 
  • 48:54 a more cohesive approach to regional integration,  
  • 49:00 like it's a priority for most of them. So it 
  • 49:00 is from the policy perspective, but [inaudible  
  • 49:06 00:49:06] also many of the businesses only makes 
  • 49:06 sense if you look at them on a regional basis.  
  • 49:14 And this is what we've been supporting. So if 
  • 49:14 you are a, I don't know, telecom infrastructure  
  • 49:19 company building towers, your business only 
  • 49:19 achieves the economies of scale that you need  
  • 49:24 if you go into one, two, three, four, 50 markets 
  • 49:24 in Africa, right? And I think this is playing.
  • 49:29 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 49:29 I think the other piece is,  
  • 49:30 there is a lot of mineral resources or natural 
  • 49:30 resources in Africa, and that attracts a certain  
  • 49:35 type and looks. I think the other piece is that 
  • 49:35 politically... So yeah, politically, I guess,  
  • 49:44 or diplomatically, there's a much more concerted 
  • 49:44 effort around pushing for trade integration,  
  • 49:51 and this shows. A lot of what we do in Africa 
  • 49:51 actually has a... We as IFC that we support...  
  • 49:57 has a regional bend because this is what 
  • 49:57 companies or private companies are doing.
  • 50:03 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 50:03 I think I would,  
  • 50:05 maybe to leave with a message, that it is a 
  • 50:05 journey. And this journey is actually take by  
  • 50:13 companies like PRAN and others, right? These are 
  • 50:13 the guys that looked at it and you say, "Yes,  
  • 50:19 there are challenges, but they're manageable." 
  • 50:19 Or, "We can find a way." And this is how  
  • 50:24 things... And I think the trust is built by 
  • 50:24 looking at a company, like PRAN or like others,  
  • 50:29 that actually does it, is successful, and that 
  • 50:29 encourages others to follow. And of course, I  
  • 50:34 think on the public sector and other authorities, 
  • 50:34 this needs to be facilitated and enabled,  
  • 50:40 but it is these examples and I think we need more 
  • 50:40 of in South Asia to really create these dynamics.
  • 50:46 [Hector Gomez Ang]:
  • 50:46 I'll stop there.
  • 50:47 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 50:47 Thanks, Hector.
  • 50:49 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 50:49 And that's a great segue for my next question  
  • 50:51 for you, Ahsan. So what do you see as the role 
  • 50:51 for firms like yours or business associations,  
  • 50:57 chambers of commerce, to actually encourage 
  • 50:57 more of this intra-regional investment? And  
  • 51:02 are there any regional business organizations 
  • 51:02 that have a role to play in your view?
  • 51:07 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 51:07 I think we all have a role to play.  
  • 51:10 I think our chambers, we need to understand our 
  • 51:10 business prospect of the regional connectivity and  
  • 51:16 how we can do more business with the region. But I 
  • 51:16 feel that, I want to refer to what Mr. Hector had  
  • 51:21 to say, I think it's a journey. It's a journey 
  • 51:21 where people need to learn, our regulators need  
  • 51:27 to learn, our business people need to learn, and 
  • 51:27 our trade bodies also need to learn. And this is a  
  • 51:33 case of where you guys in IFC and World Bank, you 
  • 51:33 can start doing advocacy, which you are currently  
  • 51:38 doing like so you made this beautiful paper, 
  • 51:38 and Sanjay [Hindi 00:51:45] has done a great job  
  • 51:45 at it. So I feel that you are doing a good job, 
  • 51:45 are doing an advocacy. And I see an explanation  
  • 51:51 that what can be the upside of regional 
  • 51:51 integration can be, how many jobs it can create?  
  • 51:58 How it can change the lives of millions of people 
  • 51:58 who are in the region? How the agriculture can be,  
  • 52:05 say, impacted? How the case of integration 
  • 52:05 can be logically understood by everybody?
  • 52:11 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 52:11 And I think it's a journey  
  • 52:12 that is not going to reap rewards in one day, 
  • 52:12 like say that our diplomatic affairs have  
  • 52:20 hurt our intra-regional business so much that 
  • 52:20 there is a lot of work that needs to be done.  
  • 52:25 But again, if we have certain success stories, 
  • 52:25 and say we are too small to be declared as one,  
  • 52:32 but I think we are in a journey. And 
  • 52:32 once we succeed in the journey...  
  • 52:37 People ask me that whether I have had a wonderful 
  • 52:37 experience of operating in India or Nepal, I feel  
  • 52:43 that one day PRAN will be a bigger company than 
  • 52:43 what we are in Bangladesh, and we'll call India  
  • 52:48 to be our largest market, because they deserve 
  • 52:48 it, because it's a country of a billion people.
  • 52:52 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 52:52 So I feel that this journey that we  
  • 52:54 are on and this journey that we have started... 
  • 52:54 The business people have started the journey,  
  • 52:58 regulators have started understanding the concepts 
  • 52:58 and the benefits of our regional integration.  
  • 53:04 And I feel that the COVID has really, 
  • 53:04 really taught us a good lesson.  
  • 53:07 And I feel that once we are in the journey, 
  • 53:07 and I think we will see light at the end  
  • 53:12 of the tunnel and we'll do more and more in 
  • 53:12 terms of regional integration in days to come.
  • 53:16 [Ahsan Khan Chowdhury]:
  • 53:16 Thank you.
  • 53:17 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 53:17 Thank you. Thanks, Ahsan.
  • 53:19 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 53:19 Fareena, maybe  
  • 53:21 in the same spirit, is there any effort 
  • 53:21 amongst boards of investments in the region  
  • 53:26 to try to coordinate efforts, work together 
  • 53:26 to support more intra-regional investment?
  • 53:32 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 53:32 On this, I would say that, unfortunately,  
  • 53:38 I don't think there is any coordination with the 
  • 53:38 board of investments or the investment promotion  
  • 53:43 agencies within the region. And primarily, I 
  • 53:43 think SAARC can play an important platform and  
  • 53:50 provide a platform for doing that. We can take 
  • 53:50 it up from the SAARC's platform. We do have some  
  • 54:01 liaison with Bangladeshi Board of Investment, 
  • 54:01 BIDA. And also their... the export  
  • 54:08 processing [inaudible 00:54:09] zone, 
  • 54:08 BEZA authority. So we shared one of our  
  • 54:16 consultants from JICA, she was also a consultant 
  • 54:16 to these boards. So she arranged our meetings with  
  • 54:24 them. So we tried to share experiences and they 
  • 54:24 had some questions for us and we had for them. But  
  • 54:29 it's not a kind of a formal setup or a formal 
  • 54:29 engagement. It's more of an informal thing.
  • 54:35 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 54:35 But I think, yes, there is a need to have a formal  
  • 54:39 setup and know the concerns of the investors from 
  • 54:39 within the region, why they are reluctant to come  
  • 54:47 invest or do business in the region. Whereas 
  • 54:47 we all see that I think the East Asia, Europe,  
  • 54:56 America, they're all good examples where people 
  • 54:56 with similar cultures, with similar backgrounds,  
  • 55:03 they feel more comfortable going to another 
  • 55:03 country which is to just across the border,  
  • 55:08 or very close by. And they usually have 
  • 55:08 families there and relatives there too.  
  • 55:15 But unfortunately, no such mechanism exists as 
  • 55:15 far as the South Asian countries are concerned.
  • 55:21 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 55:21 However, for the Central Asian republics,  
  • 55:25 we are kind of engaging with their investment 
  • 55:25 promotion agencies, and we might have an agreement  
  • 55:36 amongst them so as to formalize an arrangement 
  • 55:36 where we could meet regularly and discuss issues  
  • 55:44 and share experiences. The prime minister of 
  • 55:44 Pakistan has visited these countries, two of them,  
  • 55:51 Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and he also took a 
  • 55:51 business delegation with him. And the feedback  
  • 55:57 from the people who were accompanying him is 
  • 55:57 very positive, and they say that there is a lot  
  • 56:04 of opportunity, especially they are energy rich 
  • 56:04 countries and Pakistan is energy short country.  
  • 56:13 They can provide us with energy at a 
  • 56:13 good reasonable rate, which we need. And  
  • 56:20 also, other similar tastes, similar customs and 
  • 56:20 situation in Afghanistan. One unfortunate part  
  • 56:29 is that we do not have land border with 
  • 56:29 the five countries of the Central Asia.
  • 56:34 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 56:34 But if the situation in Afghanistan is stabilized,  
  • 56:40 then we are thinking of having a railway track 
  • 56:40 all the way through them to Kazakhstan. And  
  • 56:47 I think from there onwards, there will be a lot of  
  • 56:50 opportunity for the business and 
  • 56:50 investment which will be created.
  • 56:54 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 56:54 With Sri Lanka, we do have a free trade agreement,  
  • 56:58 but the investment chapter of that agreement 
  • 56:58 is still under discussion. And we are still  
  • 57:06 finalizing the modalities relating to that.  
  • 57:10 And I think with Sri Lanka also, 
  • 57:10 we can have this arrangement.
  • 57:15 [Fareena Mazhar]:
  • 57:15 Thank you.
  • 57:16 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 57:16 Thank you, Fareena.
  • 57:18 [Cecile Fruman]:
  • 57:18 Sanjay, one of the aspects of this report  
  • 57:22 that I found particularly interesting is how you 
  • 57:22 develop this concept of knowledge connectivity,  
  • 57:28 how knowledge about the investment landscape 
  • 57:28 influences key decisions. Tell us a little  
  • 57:33 bit more about this and where do you see the 
  • 57:33 potential of knowledge links to be tapped?  
  • 57:39 And I'll ask you to be brief because we're 
  • 57:39 reaching the end of our time together.
  • 57:42 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 57:42 Sure.
  • 57:45 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 57:45 Yeah, so indeed knowledge  
  • 57:47 connectivity is one of the things where I think 
  • 57:47 our report has broken some ground, new ground. So  
  • 57:54 let's just unravel what it means to begin with. 
  • 57:54 Knowledge connectivity refers to how well firms  
  • 58:00 know the economic and investment environment in 
  • 58:00 another country. So if there is a poor knowledge  
  • 58:06 connectivity, then there are high information 
  • 58:06 costs and costs of economic engagement. If there  
  • 58:12 is good knowledge connectivity, then it reduces 
  • 58:12 the sunk costs. You have to incur fixed costs  
  • 58:19 of entering in any other country, and it reduces 
  • 58:19 the costs of doing that by reducing the frictions  
  • 58:26 of searching, matching, and contracting. So, 
  • 58:26 our report documents the different strategies  
  • 58:35 used by these regional pioneers within South Asia 
  • 58:35 to reduce entry costs and facilitate their entry.  
  • 58:42 And there are multiple ways in 
  • 58:42 which they have been doing that.
  • 58:45 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 58:45 So, for example,  
  • 58:48 it's own learning, a firm can learn through its 
  • 58:48 own experience. So it can start by exporting  
  • 58:55 through non-equity arrangements. This experience 
  • 58:55 helps the firm to then go on to become a bigger  
  • 59:05 investor in the future. Firms 
  • 59:05 can learn from other pioneers,  
  • 59:10 so this is the information spillovers. 
  • 59:10 And it works best within a business group.  
  • 59:16 And I spoke earlier about how outside the business 
  • 59:16 group, information doesn't [inaudible 00:59:22].  
  • 59:23 Firms can also learn or develop through its 
  • 59:23 own social networks, and we found case study  
  • 59:31 evidence of this that every single case study 
  • 59:31 that we had in the report... We studied about 10  
  • 59:37 in some detail... all the pioneers had 
  • 59:37 a ethnic or social link to the first  
  • 59:44 outward investment destination. And this, 
  • 59:44 in the case of services investments, this  
  • 59:50 actually presence of a network matters even more 
  • 59:50 than productivity improvements in its home base.
  • 59:59 [Sanjay Kathuria]:
  • 59:59 So what do we conclude from this?  
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