AFP with additional input from News Desk |
South Asia’s third-largest bourse, Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) had put up a 25% stake for tender as part of its demutualization inviting external ownership to improve accountability and transparency.
On Monday February 19, 2018, the boards of the DSE approved China’s bid to buy a quarter of the Bangladesh bourse’s 1.8 billion shares and rejected India’s offer. Dr. Abul Hashem, Chairman of the DSE, told Asia Times, “The board had finalized and approved minutes of the previous board meeting, which unanimously voted for the Chinese consortium.” Stock exchange spokesman, Shafiqur Rahman after the meeting Monday evening said, “The board has reconfirmed its decision about approving the Chinese consortium’s bid as it is higher than its nearest competitors (India).”
Bangladesh is strategically located between South Asia and South-East Asia which makes it a very important player in trans-regional integration. Bangladesh has the potential to leverage its geographical advantage through this initiative.
The DSE’s demutualization scheme consists of 180,37,76,500 shares worth a total US$218 million in paid-up capital, given a face value of 12 cents per share. The Indian consortium, comprising Mumbai-based National Stock Exchange, the USA’s Nasdaq and Frontier Bangladesh meanwhile offered 18 cents per share or 15 taka per share, amounting to a bid of $87 million for the 25% stake, significantly less than the Chinese offering.
Whereas China’s Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges made a joint higher bid of 22 taka per share, or $122 million for around 450.9 million shares, and offered additional technical support worth nearly $37 million. While the Indian consortium made no clear-cut proposal of any technical support, it also demanded two director positions on the DSE board but demutualization rules allow only one board position for the “foreign entity” that owns the 25% stake.
The DSE always intended to opt for the highest bidder — in this case a Chinese consortium led by the Shanghai Stock Exchange (SSE). However, the Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission (BSEC) apparently wished the bourse to accept a lower bid from a consortium led by India’s National Stock Exchange (NSE). The intervention by the Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission in the sale sparked allegations in local media that it was trying to favor India.
The regulator, which at the time defended its final authority to override decisions made by the stock exchange, was not immediately available for comment. The Bangladesh office of Transparency International and a Berlin-based corruption watchdog, issued a statement “strongly condemning” what it called unethical and illegal meddling.
Xi Jinping in October 2016 became the first Chinese president to visit Bangladesh in more than three decades, signing deals worth more than $20 billion but there have been setbacks, with Bangladesh last month blacklisting a top Chinese construction firm.
The competing bids have exposed tensions in Bangladesh as it juggles growing interest from China against longstanding ties with its huge neighbor India. India and China as competitors engaged in a tussle for regional domination. They say Bangladesh has been backed into a corner and told to choose between what has long been its most important neighbor (India) and its largest trading partner (China).
DSE board member Shakil Rizvi told Asia Times that the Chinese consortium wanted to be a long-term strategic partner without imposing any conditions, whereas the Indian consortium had imposed the condition of recouping its investment after five years.
He added, “The Chinese consortium had already garnered the necessary approvals from all of the relevant local regulators in China to go ahead with the partnership, whereas the Indian consortium hadn’t obtained the necessary approval from the Securities and Exchange Board of India and the Reserve Bank of India.”
New Delhi threw its weight behind the 2014 elections that returned Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to power, despite boycotts by the opposition who feared the vote would be rigged. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has made big investments in Bangladesh and Indian companies have won multi-billion contracts in key sectors in recent years.
But increasingly it must counter China, which has also courted India’s arch-rival Pakistan and strategic Indian Ocean nations including Sri Lanka and the Maldives. China has already overtaken India to become Bangladesh’s largest trading partner. In 2016-2017, trade between Beijing and Dhaka was $11 billion, albeit imports from China accounted for $10.1 billion of that. In the same period, bilateral trade of Bangladesh and India was only $6.8 billion, with imports from India accounting for $6.16 billion.
While the Indian consortium made no clear-cut proposal of any technical support, it also demanded two director positions on the DSE board but demutualization rules allow only one board position for the “foreign entity” that owns the 25% stake.
On Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Dhaka in October 2016, Bangladesh was pledged a loan of $25 billion — it’s largest ever — from China to implement 35 projects. China is also the biggest potential investor in capital-poor Bangladesh. In response to that Chinese offer, and following a visit to India by Bangladeshi Premier Sheikh Hasina, in April last year, India extended its total line of credit to the country to $8 billion.
Xi Jinping in October 2016 became the first Chinese president to visit Bangladesh in more than three decades, signing deals worth more than $20 billion but there have been setbacks, with Bangladesh last month blacklisting a top Chinese construction firm for allegedly trying to bribe a senior government official.
Moreover, Bangladesh is part of the proposed Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor (BCIM), one of the six corridors of OBOR. China plans to invest up to $4tn in OBOR-related projects in the next couple of decades. With proper policy co-ordination, Bangladesh can attract a large chunk of that investment. Bangladesh is strategically located between South Asia and South-East Asia which makes it a very important player in trans-regional integration. Bangladesh has the potential to leverage its geographical advantage through this initiative.