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Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 17:23 GMT
Dhaka looks for dollars

Preparing for the first visit by a US president
By South Asia analyst Alastair Lawson

The visit of US President Bill Clinton to Bangladesh next week will be the first by an American president since the country's independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Although the president is only in the country for about nine hours he nevertheless has an exhaustive schedule.

Arrives on Monday
Meets key political leaders
Interacts with business
Visits Joypura village
Mr Clinton will meet the president, prime minister, opposition and business leaders.

He will also travel to the village of Joypura in rural Bangladesh to tour an elementary school which is run on the micro-credit system of funding.

US investment

From the point of view of the Bangladesh Government, a key aspect of President Clinton's visit will be its programme to attract American investment into the country.

Nowhere is that more needed than in the country's infrastructure.

Sheikh Hasina will look for investment
Already there are reports in newspapers which say the authorities are worried that the president may not complete his visit without experiencing one of Dhaka's almost daily power cuts.

Recently, an American company announced plans to build a $450mn container terminal in the southern port of Chittagong.

This represents the biggest American investment so far in Bangladesh and the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, is hoping that Washington can be persuaded to invest in similar infrastructure projects.

'Open up'

If that money is forthcoming, its not likely to be without strings attached.

Paramount among these is the American demand that Bangladesh export some of its gas resources to India, its energy-hungry neighbour.

Call for an end to strikes
Washington argues that in doing this Bangladesh will have more revenue to develop its infrastructure and reduce poverty.

Analysts say that the gas and oil reserves of Bangladesh could be worth billions of dollars in the next few years.

However Sheikh Hasina is reluctant to do this even though the Americans say the country has ample gas reserves.

The government is no doubt well aware that if it does so, they will be accused by the opposition of selling out to India.

That's an accusation it does not want to face ahead of next year's general elections.

End to strikes

President Clinton is also likely to use his influence to encourage Sheikh Hasina's Awami League party to reconcile its differences with the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

It is currently boycotting parliament as part of its campaign for an early general election.

Its supporters regularly go on strike, often bringing economic activity in the country to a halt.

President Clinton will probably not lose the opportunity to tell his hosts that this endless cycle of industrial unrest has deterred many foreign investors.

Other issues likes to be discussed the two leaders are defence co-operation, in which Washington may well express its displeasure at the recent Bangladeshi decision to buy eight MiG-29 fighters from Russia.

The US will argue that Bangladesh cannot afford and does not need such sophisticated hardware.

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See also:

13 Mar 00 | South Asia
Deals await US firms
09 Mar 00 | South Asia
Anti-US protest in Bangladesh
15 Feb 00 | South Asia
One dead in Bangladesh strike
01 Feb 00 | South Asia
Clinton to visit India
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