China finally greenlights 300ha special economic zone in Bangladesh

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After five years of delays, China has signalled its intention to begin work urgently on a 300ha business park in Bangladesh. The Chinese Economic and Industrial Zone (CEIZ), to be developed near the southeastern port of Chittogram, is expected to take five years to become fully operational.

The zone was first proposed by Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladeshi, during a visit to Beijing in 2014. The following year, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council in China approved the plan, and the CEIZ Development Company was set up by China Harbour Engineering Company and Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (Beza).

China Harbour agreed a $100m investment in scheme and the Bangladeshi government allocated $50m, however the scheme appeared to stall, until earlier this month, when China Harbour wrote to Beza seeking the signing of a deal to allow it to start work on site.

The Beijing-based company said its $100m was immediately available, and that it would begin marketing the scheme to Chinese enterprises. According the Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star, more than 60 Chinese concerns have expressed interest in investing nearly $280m in the zone, accounting for about 40% of the available land. It added that it had obtained necessary approvals from China’s Ministry of Commerce and the National Development and Reform Commission, as well as its parent, China Communications Construction Company.

Jiang Wei, project representative of CEIZ, told the Daily Star that designs had been finalised and China Harbour was ready to start work on infrastructure development. He said: “We will focus on four sectors for investment in the zone – logistics, manufacturing, chemical and readymade garments.” He added: “CEIZ will be able to eventually attract more than $1bn in foreign investment, create 60,000 to 90,000 jobs, directly or indirectly, and ultimately boost industrialisation and develop the economy of the surrounding Chattogram district.”

Paban Chowdhury, executive chairman of Beza, said the Chinese side was keen on rapid implementation of the zone to set up factories and take advantage of the relatively low tariffs levied on Bangladeshi goods.

Bangladesh presently has 88 special economic zones, 59 set up by the government and 29 by private investors. Earlier this week, China’s Yabang Group announced that it would spend $300m on textile and chemical plants on 40ha of Beza’s flagship Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Shilpanagar zone.

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