Bangladesh-Japan ties touch new high in 50 years

Bangladesh-Japan relationship has reached a new level in investment and trade, with Tokyo offering plenty of assistance to Dhaka

Mehjabin Bhanu Feb 11, 2022
Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Photo: Eugene Hoshiko)

February 10 marks the 5oth anniversary of the establishment of Bangladesh-Japan diplomatic relations. Despite the huge differences in economic positions, there is a strong desire to strengthen the existing good relations and close cooperation between the governments and peoples of the two Asian countries.

Japan's friendly relations began with the recognition of Bangladesh on February 10, 1972. But Japan had very good relations with Bengalis even before the formation of independent Bangladesh. At one time, many people from this part of India used to go to Japan for technical education. That trend continues. 

Even during the liberation war, Japan played a very helpful role. Soon after independence, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman paid a fruitful visit to Japan. During the tenure of different governments, Bangladesh maintained good relations with Japan. 

Rising Japanese investment 

At present, the investment of Japanese companies in Bangladesh is rising. Along with various types of investments, Bangladesh gets a lot of direct assistance from Japan. Just as various products are imported from Japan, exports to Japan have also increased. Bangladesh-Japan relationship has reached a new level in investment and trade.

When Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Japan in 2019, Tokyo agreed to invest heavily in the communication and power sectors of Bangladesh. Bangladesh has signed agreements with Japan for several other projects. Notable among them is the construction of a 1,200 MW power project in Cox's Bazar area with Japan’s help.  

As a potential hub of the regional economy, Matarbari Port would connect South Asia and South-East Asia. In other words, it could re-shape Bangladesh as a trading nation deeply incorporated in the inter-regional and global value chains. 

Whereas in 2008 and 2010 a total of 70 and 83 Japanese companies respectively operated in different businesses and trade in Bangladesh, there are 321 Japanese companies in the country now. 

Japanese Honda has set up a motorcycle factory in Bangladesh. A Yamaha factory is being built by a group called ACI. Japan Tobacco has bought Akij Group, a very old tobacco business in Bangladesh. In this project, Japan Tobacco has invested $147.6 million in Bangladesh. In addition, Nippon Ispat, a steel producer, is setting up a joint venture with McDonald's Steel Building Products, a local company. In 2018, Japanese companies have invested about 1,750 crore Japanese Yen in Bangladesh.

Imports, exports 

It is hoped that the Japanese will continue to invest in Bangladesh. According to data, in 2018, Bangladesh exported goods worth $117 million to Japan -- about 23 percent more than the previous year. On the other hand, $187 million dollar worth of goods were imported to Bangladesh from Japan.

Bangladesh is the largest recipient of Japan's official development assistance (ODA). The construction of the Kanchpur, Meghna and Gumti second bridges and the rehabilitation of the existing bridge project are excellent examples of Japanese ODA. Those bridges have significantly reduced travel time between Dhaka and Chattogram.

Bangladesh earns a large amount of foreign exchange by exporting manpower. But Bangladesh's manpower export to Japan is disappointing. The number of Bangladeshis in Japan is very low. One key reason is the lack of skilled workers.  

According to a media report, in FY 2020, Japan provided 373.2 billion yen ($3.423 billion) to Bangladesh as project loans and financial assistance for Covid-19 countermeasures. This means that Bangladesh has become the largest recipient, overtaking India, on a single Japanese fiscal year basis for the first time in the history of the yen loan. 

Aiding Bangladesh 

Japan and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have contributed to the development of Bangladesh through loans, grant aid and dispatch of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) in various fields including education, health, water/sanitation and agriculture.

Japan is the largest export market for Bangladesh in Asia. Over the last 10 years, the export figures have doubled and reached $1.2 billion. The main export items are textiles, readymade garments and leather products. The key is to establish the brand image by increasing productivity and assuring better quality. 

Pharmaceuticals, agricultural and fishery products and the food industry have high potential. Japan and Bangladesh can work together in the sectors of Rohingya refugee crisis solution, expanding of blue economy and countering terrorism.  

(The author is a teacher and social worker in Rajshahi, Bangladesh. Views are personal. She can be contacted at

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