Business Dialogue – “Bangladesh-UK at 50: Towards A Post-Brexit New Economic Vision”

Your Excellency, Dr. Abdul Momen, and Your Excellency Ms. Saida Muna Tasneem, Mr. Bashir Ahmed, ladies and gentlemen. Assalaam Alaykum and good evening. I would like to thank Mr. Shahagir Bakth Faruk for his kind invitation to attend this event today, the Business Dialogue on Bangladesh-UK at 50, and asking me to speak at this gathering.

I have known Mr. Faruk for over 20 years, and he is generally known as Faruk Bhai, as he has undertaken a great deal of community work. I first met Faruk Bhai when he was a Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow in 2001, and I did campaign for him. Faruk also had a business in Brick Lane, opposite the Mosque. Faruk Bhai was in fact a pioneer in elections for Parliamentary seats. He laid the foundation for successive Bangladeshi candidates to stand for elections, and we now have four Members of Parliament of Bangladeshi extraction. Faruk Bhai is an accomplished author, and has written a marvellous book, which is called “Brick Lane: Bari to Basa”. The foreword of the book has also been written by His Excellency Dr. Abdul Momen.

I would also like to welcome His Excellency Dr. Abdul Momen to the United Kingdom, and I hope he has had productive discussions with Alok Sharma and others. As a British Politician, I would like to say that we do value our connection with Bangladesh, and I hope we can make the bond even stronger. I am a friend of Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi community, and I have a strong connection with the Bangladeshi community. Furthermore, I am a Vice Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Bangladesh. I have visited Bangladesh and in fact was involved in a very large project to vaccinate children in Bangladesh against pneumonia. I also visited Dhaka and the rural parts of Bangladesh. I have found the Bangladeshis in rural areas to be proud people, who wanted to help themselves.

There are over 500,000 Bangladeshi’s in the UK. I have found the Bangladeshi community in the United Kingdom are very hard working. I am glad that the Bangladeshi Diaspora is doing well in every walk of life. Furthermore, I am very pleased that the children of Bangladeshi parents are performing very well at school. This is mainly due to parental encouragement, which we must all appreciate. In fact, I have given awards to children of Bangladeshi extraction who have done well at school and left school with good results. I now see young persons of Bangladeshi heritage doing very well in the City of London and in professions, media, arts and sports.

I have a close connection with the organisation Bangladeshi Caterers, and I also hosted and attended their events. There are 12,000 British Bangladeshi restaurants and take away outlets in the United Kingdom. Bangladeshis have excelled in the catering business and their total turnover exceeds 4.5 million pounds. It now employs over 100,000 people. I would also like to add, that during the pandemic a number of British-Bangladeshi caterers provided free meals and assistance to the Bangladeshi community. I made this point in one of my speeches in the House of Lords.

Talking about the pandemic, I would like to reinforce the importance of everyone having the vaccination and taking appropriate care. I was involved in a project to encourage everyone, including the Bangladeshi community in East London, to take the vaccination. I am pleased that the hesitancy has diminished to a large extent. Regarding Bangladesh, I note that the country is expecting the receipt of the required number of vaccines from various sources. The country hopes to launch an accelerated inoculation campaign, and the target is to vaccinate 80% of its population, which is over 160-million people, by next year. I am a businessman, and very actively involved in promoting more trade between the UK and overseas countries.

I have been Chairman and CEO of a large Public Limited Company, and am now Chairman of three active organisations. I have spoken at numerous trade conferences, which were held to promote more trade within the UK and many overseas countries. I also hope to lead trade delegations to overseas countries, now that pandemic restrictions are easing. Atam Sandhu, who is with us today, is instrumental in organising trade conferences and delegations, and he is going to talk to us, and describe the outstanding services he can provide. I certainly would like to accelerate our trade with Bangladesh, as I feel that Bangladesh has a good story to tell. The country has been hailed by The Economist as the new Asian Tiger. The Tiger has now woken up, and everybody must take notice.

Total trade in goods and services between the UK and Bangladesh was £2.6 billion in the four quarters to the end of Q1 2021. Although, there has been a decrease in light of the pandemic, I am sure that with the lifting of restrictions we can expedite trade between our two countries. Bangladesh is the UK’s 51st largest trading partner. Indeed, in 2019 outward stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) from the UK in Bangladesh was £771 million. There are many lucrative opportunities in Bangladesh, for the business community in the UK, to invest their capital. Not just in Bangladesh’s thriving I.T services, but also in banking, tourism, manufacturing and infrastructure, nuclear energy, fishing, and even the refining of sugar. There are successful businessmen of Bangladeshi extraction, and I am sure the diaspora can consider increasing their investments.

I would like to say, that the protection of the environment is of great concern to me. I have spoken on the environment in the House of Lords, and in fact I will be attending COP26 in Glasgow. I feel that we must take appropriate action to stop all emissions by 2050. This is of great importance, as parts of Bangladesh are low-lying, and are being affected by the changes in the natural world and rising water. We must all work together to protect the entire planet, which of course means protecting Bangladesh.

Finally, I would like to add that I have written a book about the four Parliamentarians from the Subcontinent of India. This includes a chapter on Sir Mancherjee, who was born in Bombay, and became a Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green in 1895. He was a Conservative Member of Parliament. I would like to present copies of the Book to Dr. Abdul Momen and Faruk Bhai.