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Business  & Finance News

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Compiled by SDNP

Head Lines

Bangladesh on high priority list of ICT assistance

UNB, GENEVA, The Independent

Sept 19: Bangladesh is on the list of high priority countries for getting financial assistance for the development of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

"Bangladesh can be the example of reducing poverty applying ICT in various sectors, including agriculture. It is now on high priority list for providing financial assistance in this sector," said Gerolf Weigel, Chairman of the International Advisory Panel for ICT for Development (ICT4D) Platform of WSIS.

In an exclusive interview with UNB, Weigel said ICT is playing a catalysing tool for development. Bangladesh should take integrated plan to use ICT as an agenda for poverty reduction.

Weigel, who is also the Head of ICT4D Division of Swiss Agency for International Development and Co-operation (SDC), visited Dhaka twice in connection with BFES and GKP conferences on ICT issues.

He said efforts of the government and civil society are needed as he thinks financial assistance would not be a problem for Bangladesh.

"May be Bangladesh started its journey late in the ICT field, but I think it accelerated its active initiatives to cope with the latest situation," Weigel said.

About World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), he said Bangladesh's activities are positive and the WSIS process will create awareness among the world people to fulfil the WSIS target about ICT.

WSIS have fixed its target to ensure wireless connectivity among the world people gradually by the year 2015. The target is to gradually connect all villages across the world by 2010 with a community access point by 2015.

All the universities across the world are to be connected by 2005, secondary schools by 2010 and all primary schools by 2015.

Besides, it also fixed its target for connecting all scientific centres and hospitals by 2005 while all public libraries by 2006 and all cultural centres, museum, archives and health centres by 2010.

"We hope, it's a great opportunity for countries to go ahead in the light of the WSIS action plan on ICT to be connected with the world," Weigel said. "Now it will depend on the respective countries how they will take this opportunity."

Drawing on his experience about the country, he said Bangladesh is a potential country, which can go forward using ICT to reduce poverty. Weigel said Swiss Development Agencies also have very positive attitude about development of ICT in Bangladesh. "We will extend more co-operation in this regard," he.

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Global currency rates on agenda at G-7 meet

ECONOMIC DESK, The Independent

Global currency rates will be on the agenda of the meeting of finance ministers and central bank chiefs from the world's seven most industrialised nations (G-7) in Dubai, a source close to the G-7 said Friday.

"Yes, it's clearly going to the object of discussions in the G-7 and certainly one delegation has proposed that exchange rates, notably that of the dollar, are mentioned in the final statement," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The exchange rate of the dollar is causing grave international concern, with observers worried an abrupt fall in the greenback's value could trigger a damaging rise in the euro, if Asian countries do not allow their own undervalued currencies to appreciate.

But a member of one delegation said that the final statement from the G-7 group (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States), would not contain an explicit reference to the level of the dollar against the Chinese yuan or other individual currencies.

The source said that the statement would most likely make a "more subtle" reference to the need for "flexibility" in exchange rates, with both Europe and the United States agreed on the use of the term.

In its World Economic Outlook published earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had also made a call for more exchange rate flexibility, in comments addressed mainly at Asian countries.

US manufacturers claim that China's yuan -- which has been pegged at around 8.3 to the dollar for the past decade -- is undervalued by about 15 per cent, clobbering US exports. The US administration has argued forcefully that China should change its currency peg, but Treasury Secretary John Snow failed to persuade Beijing to give ground on a recent trip to the region.

Europe has also backed the US position, albeit less assertively, with European Central Bank chief Wim Duisenberg complaining the burden from a fall in the dollar is landing exclusively on the shoulders of the euro.

ECB officials said Duisenberg would meet with his Chinese counterpart Zhou Xiaochuan in Dubai. The meeting of the G-s7 is due to kick off on Saturday.

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Dev work on Tk one crore project uncertain


Sept 19: With the fleeing of the executive of LGED following the pressure by some armed cadres said to belong to party in power, the execution of works valued Tk. one crore of the Facilities Department here has become uncertain. The armed cadres reportedly hired by a vested in group prevented the general contractors from dropping their purchased tender forms. The executive engineer of LGED, under the circumstances, fled the office leaving the matter of tender forms in an uncertain condition.

Informed sources said the Facilities Department invited tenders on August 12 for the works valued Tk two crore, including sanitation of the building of the computer laboratory, its drainage and electrification and electrification and upward expansion of the existing building of Polytechnic Institute, Mymensingh, under two groups. September 7 was fixed for the last date of the sale of the tender forms. A total of 74 tender forms wee sold during this time. August 9 was the date for the dropping of the tender forms.

Allegations have it that a vested interest group, in a bid to reap benefits from the Tk two work themselves alone, hired the cadres belonging to party in power to prevent the general contractors from dropping the tender forms. It is alleged that the general contractors, though purchased tender forms, could not drop those in the face of obstructions posed by the hired cadres.

The armed cadres snatched the tender form from a contractor who went to the office of the executive engineer to drop it. They tore the tender form into pieces in front of the executive engineer. Another contractor failing to drop his tender form kept it with the executive engineer. Armed cadres were deployed on different points at the office of the executive engineer to prevent the contractors from dropping their tender forms. The government, due to the lack of competition in the tender forms, has been deprived of a good amount of revenue.

Under the circumstances, the executive engineer without bringing the matter to the knowledge of the law enforcers fled his office. The fleeing of the executive engineer before September 11 which was fixed for opening the tender box is shrouded in mystery. A rumour has been in the air that the works valued Tk one crore had already been distributed among eight influential persons through negotiation with the officials of the Facilities Department.

The fleeing of the engineer is only an eye wash.

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Bus service to Agartala will

improve relationship: PM 

The Bangladesh Observer

Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia expressed her hope that the introduction of Dhaka-Agartala direct bus service would lead to improvement of relationship in other fields and enhance interaction between Bangladesh and India, says UNB.

She expressed the views when the visiting Indian Minister for Surface Transport and Highways, Maj General (Retd) BC Khanduri, and Chief Minister of the Indian State of Tripura Manik Sarkar made a courtesy call on her at the PM Office on Thursday evening.

Khanduri and Sarkar are now in Dhaka on the occasion of inauguration of the cross-border bus service today (Friday), capping a long-drawn preparation for restoring one of the missing links between the two next-door neighbors.

Khanduri conveyed to Begum Zia greetings from Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the people of India, particularly of Tripura.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia said inauguration of the new bus route would open up new avenues in the field of communications and help improve “people-to-people” relationship between the two neighboring countries.

This is a second cross-border land route being opened between the two countries, after the Dhaka-Kolkata one. And Khanduri noted with satisfaction that the new bus route would create a new facility for movement of the people of Northeast India.

The Chief Minister of Tripura said the people of his state are “really excited” having the new route they had been longing for long.

Manik Sarkar hoped it would play an important role in expanding tourism and people-to-people contact.

People of Tripura will be benefited more than the people of Bangladesh would be, he said, striking a high note of optimism about the turn of events.

Expressing his gratitude, Sarkar said Bangladesh showed an example of big heartedness.

He expressed his belief that it would improve the relations between the peoples of India, particularly Tripura, and of Bangladesh.

Manik Sarkar hoped that the Bangladesh Prime Minister during her visit to India would make time to undertake a trip to the State of Tripura.

He recalled that Shaheed President Ziaur Rahman, who declared the war of independence, had been in Tripura during the war.

During the meeting Bangladesh Communications Minister Barrister Nazmul Huda informed that rail communications between Bangladesh’s Akhaura and India’s Agartala would open soon.

Discussion in this regard will be held in detail during the next meeting of the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Economic Commission.

Manik Sarkar, in this regard, said it would open a very big door between the two countries.

Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan, PM’s Principal Secretary Dr Kamal Siddiqui, Chief Secretary of the government of Tripura V Thulasidas and Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh ML Tripathy were also present on the occasion.  

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Tallow doesn't accept sellout of

Chevron interests in Bangladesh

The Bangladesh Observer

Irish company Tullow Oil plc does not accept the sellout of ChevronTexaco interests in Bangladesh to Canadian Niko Resources Limited, reports UNB.

Tullow Wednesday sent its objection to the Managing Director of Chevron International Bangladesh Limited, IR Taureka, said its officials in Dhaka.

“Given the historical and legal position surrounding the block 9 PSC, Tullow does not accept this attempt by ChevronTexaco to renege on its commitments to its partners and to the government of Bangladesh, and Tullow will act accordingly,” says the protest note.

Tullow’s Legal and Commercial Director A Graham Martin wrote the disapproval letter, a copy of which was made available to UNB through fax, in response to Chevron’s communiqué regarding the makeover to Niko.

Copies of the objection letter was also sent to State Minister for Energy AKM Mosharraf Hossain, Energy Division Secretary Khandaker Shahidul Islam, Petrobangla Chairman SR Osmani and its Director (PSC) Engr Raihanul Abedin.

A separate letter addressed to AKM Mosharraf Hossain from its Legal and Commercial Director says they do not accept that ChevronTexaco has the right, as stated in their letter, to transfer their rights and obligations under the PSC.

Specially, says the letter, it cannot be in this manner, without consulting or seeking prior approval of the government, Petrobangla and other partners.

“...Tullow won block 9 in the second-round bidding. The Bangladesh government at that time wished to include Chevron and Texaco in the block, as a result of which an arrangement was forced upon Tullow to accept phem in a joint venture and to agree to transfer the operatorship to Chevron in case of a discovery,” said the Tullow letter.

“We understand that the government forced this decision upon Tullow following the assurance by Chevron of their long-term commitment to Bangladesh,” it said

Accordingly, the provisions of the PSC and the joint operating agreement, which regulates arrangements between the parties, were based on such assurance and commitment by Chevron.

It said: in attempting to transfer a majority interest in block 9 to an entity which was not party to the original arrangements, Chevron are reneging on their obligations both to partners and to the government of Bangladesh and provoking considerable uncertainty over the imminent drilling campaign.

“Given the history of painful and protracted negotiations on this block, we do not accept that they have the right to transfer their interest in this manner and at this time and we would request the full support of the ministry and the government in preventing the implementation of this action,” says the Tullow letter to the State Minister for Energy.

Earlier on Tuesday, Chevron International Bangladesh Ltd MD IR Taureka informed Tullow Bangladesh Resident Manager John Mckenna that ChevronTexaco had sold its subsidiary to Canada’s Niko.

“The sale is effective immediately. By virtue of the sale, Niko now has the rights and the obligations of the PSC and joint operating agreement,” said the Chevron letter.  

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Nepal eager to expand trade with Bangladesh 

The Bangladesh Observer

Nepal on Thursday expressed its keen desire to expand trade and commerce with Bangladesh and also stressed upon finding out new avenues for enhanced business between the two countries, says BSS.

"Nepal is very eager to expand its trade and commerce with Bangladesh," said Nepalese Ambassador to Bangladesh Bhagirath Basnet during a meeting with President of Bangladesh Chamber of Industries (BCI) A K Azad here on Thursday.

He, however, urged the Bangladeshi businessmen to invest in the sectors like hotel/restaurant, tourism, pharmaceuticals, bank and insurance, textile and health in his country.

They also discussed issues related to improving bilateral relations with focus on regional interests. The BCI president welcoming the Nepalese Ambassador said Bangladesh and Nepal could contribute a lot towards establishing a closer contact and expanding cooperation in the fields of trade and investment.

He urged the Nepalese entrepreneurs to invest in important sectors like textile, power generation, agro-based industries, telecommunication, computer software industry, medical transcription, infrastructure, development, pharmaceuticals, tanneries, chemical and backward linkages of garment industries in Bangladesh by enjoying a lucrative package of investment facilities offered by the government.

"Bangladesh is an excellent place of investment and the private sector is being encouraged by the government in almost all areas except five reserved sectors," Azad said.

Among others, Arun Prasad Dhital, Deputy Chief of Nepalese Embassy, BCI vice-president AM Badruzzaman Khan Khasru were present on the occasion. 

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Ambassador meets Mintoo

China keen to invest in Bangladesh

The Bangladesh Observer

Hu Qianwen, Ambassador of the People's Republic of China called on Abdul Awal Mintoo, President of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) at FBCCI office on Thursday, Jhu Jinfu, Commercial Counselor of Chinese Embassy accompanied the Ambassador, Kamaluddin Ahmed, First Vice-President of FBCCI, Abul Quasem Haider, Vice-President, FBCCI, Rajjab Sharif, Dewan Sultan Ahmed, Abdul Kashem Ahmed and Alhaj Md. Bazlur Rahman, Directors of FBCCI were also present, says a Press release.

Welcoming the Ambassador Abdul Awal Mintoo, President, FBCCI said that there is excellent bilateral rela­tions between Bangladesh and China. He said that China and Bangladesh are the two friendly countries enjoy­ing stable and healthy mutual rela­tions ever since the establishment of diplo­matic relations. He ap­prised the am­bassador the role of FBCCI, the apex trade organisa­tion of the country in the national economy and privatiza­tion pro­cess. The FBCCI chief em­phasised the need to explore possibili­ties of bilateral cooperation between Bangladesh and China especially in the field of trade and investment. FBCCI President sought necessary support from the ambassador to ex­change trade delegation both in Bangladesh and China so that Bangladeshi businessmen could iden­tify the ways to export its products to China. It is worth mentioning that China's export to Bangladesh was worth US$ 878.49 million whereas Bangladesh export valued US$ 18.91 million in 2001-2002.

The FBCCI President further men­tioned that China is now be­coming the most powerful coun­try in the world trade and the most influential nation in Asia. FBCCI President urged for Chinese direct investment  in Bangladesh taking full advantages of attractive incentives offered by the govern­ment. He emphasised on in­vest­ment of China evolved less costly technology to increase the manu­fac­turing capability of Bangladesh to be­come competitive in the in­ternational market.

The Chinese ambassador em­pha­sised the need for increasing trade and economic cooperation between the two friendly coun­tries. He urged for more interac­tions of the business community to improve the present trade po­sition. He assured that China will extend all support and coopera­tion to increase trade deals and to make more investment in Bangladesh.

Relating to a proposed visit of a Taiwanese delegation to Bangladesh, the FBCCI President sought advice from the ambas­sador as Bangladesh needs busi­ness transactions with all to in­crease job opportunity in the coun­try. To this the Chinese Ambassador indicated that there may be business relations but there should not be any­thing of­ficial.

The both sides agreed to in­crease further cooperation in trade and in­vestment. They also agreed to work together for fur­ther economic devel­opment with a view to improve the economic activities between the countries. 

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US trade deals no cakewalk after Cancun debacle

After the failure of global trade talks in Cancun, Mexico, America this week put the world on notice that it would accelerate efforts for bilateral and regional deals to foster trade, a plan that experts say is fraught with its own difficulties.

Smaller-scale free-trade negotiations may involve fewer egos and fewer special interests than in the 146-nation World Trade Organization talks, but special interests, especially in agriculture, will still be in the game.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the US Australia free-trade negotiations the Bush administration wants to finish by the end of this year.

Allen Johnson, agriculture negotiator for the US Trade Representative, said he could not guarantee the deadline would be met. "There's a serious engagement on both sides. But I'm not sure how quickly this is all going to come together," Johnson said.

"It's certainly not going to be an easy one," he said of the bargaining with Australia. Australians are eager for a bilateral pact that they believe would add $4 billion to their economy annually.

Most of American agriculture is less enthusiastic. US farmers argue that Australia, a major exporter of beef, livestock and dairy, would flood the US market while providing few reciprocal benefits.

US agriculture's reticence also may be explained by the fact that the United States presents Australia with an export market of 281 million consumers, compared to only 19 million Down Under for American industry.

Given the lopsided figures, it's an open secret that the White House took on a US-Australia pact as payoff for Canberra's support in the war against Iraq, according to trade analysts.

Jaime Castaneda, a vice-president of the Washington-based National Milk Producers Federation, which opposes a free-trade deal with Australia, said the collapse of WTO talks in Cancun makes matters more problematic.

"What do we get out of an Australia agreement? Nothing. Zero," Castaneda said in an interview with Reuters.

If the WTO had been able to craft a blueprint in Cancun for improved global trade, the milk group could tell its farmers "with new markets, we're going to try to offset the imports from Australia," he said. "But now, we don't even have that."

The $24.5 billion US dairy industry says removing import tariffs and Australian milk, butter and cheese would bring nearly 7 billion pounds (3 billion kg) of extra shipments from Australia over the first four years of the deal. That, it says would cost US farmers $2.2 billion annually in lost revenues.

Jeffrey Schott, a trade expert at the Institute for International Economics in Washington, played down the impact the Cancun failure would have on more limited negotiations, saying few ever believed the WTO talks would have met a January 2005 deadline for completion.

Schott predicted that stalled WTO diplomacy "certainly will focus much more attention" on regional and bilateral deals, such as a Central American pact that Washington is negotiating with Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

"That's good news and bad news," he said, noting that the Central American talks will now be under greater scrutiny, especially from US lawmakers, who already have expressed concerns about the impact on American farmers and ranchers.

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EU plans to fight against disputed US trade law

The European Union is planning to fight back against an old but contested US anti-dumping law, officials said on Thursday, as the world's top two commerce blocs head into an autumn of trade discontent.

The European Commission wants to let EU firms take up the issue in US in courts if they are prosecuted under a 1916 US anti-dumping law, which the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled illegal in September 2000.

The move comes as transatlantic disputes over US steel tariffs and US export tax breaks are set to resurface, both potentially involving EU trade sanctions on American goods.

"The time has come to do something so that European companies will not be negatively affected by this (US) legislation," said Arancha Gonzalez, spokeswoman for European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy.

She spoke after the Commission on Wednesday proposed a law to stop EU courts recognising and enforcing US decisions under the 1916 act, which is more draconian than standard anti-dumping rules as it allows fines and imprisonment for those convicted.

The EU executive took the decision three days after world trade talks broke down in acrimony in Cancun, Mexico, raising fears of a global trade free-for-all.

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