Shrugging off any fears of a possible debt trap with China, Prime Minister's Adviser for Private Industry and Investment Salman F Rahman has said Bangladesh's external debt-to-GDP ratio was one of the lowest in the world.
"Similarly, the commercial debt of the Bangladesh government is minimal. All our debt is bilateral debts at concessional rates," Salman told India Today in an interview on Wednesday.
"In the case of Sri Lanka, the biggest problem was that the government had taken on a huge amount of commercial debt. We haven't done that. In fact, we don't even have a sovereign bond."
During the interview, which comes amid Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's India tour, Salman also touched upon the India-Bangladesh economic partnership, illegal refugees and the state of Bangladesh's economy.
On India's concerns regarding Chinese investments in Bangladesh, he said there was nothing to worry about.
"Our relationship with China is that they have given us concessional loans for some projects and we have used them for the projects. For example, the Padma Bridge, which is a marvel of engineering, many believed was a Chinese government project. That is not true. It is financed by Bangladesh completely, but through an international tender the project was constructed by a Chinese company. It was a commercial thing.
"That does not mean we are dependent on China for such development projects. There are some infrastructure projects that China has financed too," Salman said.
He also said Bangladesh had a lot of potential to attract Indian investments, which did not hinge on Bangladesh's market alone.
"Indian investors, when they invest in Bangladesh, should not look at Bangladesh's market alone. They should combine it with the North East. The reason for that is because we are now working closely on communication and connectivity – road, rail, and waterways. Bangladesh would become a huge market for Indian companies," he said.
Highlighting the trade issue, Salman said he hoped the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) would come into effect as soon as possible.
In 2021-22, Bangladesh emerged as the largest trade partner for India in South Asia and CEPA will provide a boost to the already flourishing trade.
"In principle, we agreed to do a CEPA. We have to do scoping and a lot of work before proper negotiations begin. Well, the timeframe that we would like is as soon as possible, but there is a lot of work to do," he told India Today.
On illegal immigrants, he said most were economic refugees and would return once the economy improves.
"We are seeing that Bangladeshis are now looking for higher-paying jobs in the Middle East because, for lower-paid jobs, they are getting better salaries in Bangladesh itself. They are getting skilled and then going abroad. So, we are focusing on skill training, upskilling, and reskilling," he added.
The adviser also expressed hope that the Teesta dispute would be resolved during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's tenure.
"Negotiations on both sides will have to be concluded. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also has very good relations with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee," he added.