Vietnam was more or less similar to Bangladesh during the 1980s in terms of exports and attracting foreign investments, but the Asian country has now achieved an enviable position in such indicators – far ahead of Bangladesh.
Experts attribute Vietnam's success to its government's export-friendly policy, liberal stance on attracting foreign investments, diversification of export products and markets, boosting human resource development, and joining forces with regional and global economic powers.
"We should focus more on governance. Despite making an EPZ in 1996, Bangladesh is yet to make a final agreement with YoungOne," Prof Rehman Sobhan, chairman of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said at a webinar titled "Vietnam's superb export performance: What lessons might there be for Bangladesh" on Friday.
"They [YoungOne] held discussions to bring Samsung to Bangladesh, but their efforts failed. Samsung then chose Vietnam, and this move brought a revolution to the country's electronic industry," said Prof Sobhan.
"We must figure out why Samsung settled for Vietnam despite initially showing interest towards Bangladesh. This move has influenced other investors as well. Why has no other large Korean company – excluding YoungOne – visited Bangladesh as yet?
"Bangladesh is receiving duty free export facilities from various countries, including those from Europe. Vietnam is doing better than Bangladesh in this sector without this facility. We must review the reasons behind this phenomenon," he said.
Criticising Bangladesh's existing policy on boosting exports and attracting foreign direct investments (FDI), Prof Sobhan pointed out that Vietnam took advantage of a lot of other facilities that Bangladesh could not.
Meanwhile, economists and business leaders said Vietnam's strong policy support has helped the country boost its exports and FDI, but Bangladesh could not achieve its desired success on such indicators despite having the potential to do so.
Bangladesh should – if not fully, then partially – follow the model Vietnam has been utilising for the past three decades, they added.
Presenting the keynote at the event organised by Policy Research Institute (PRI), its Vice Chairman Dr Sadiq Ahmed showed how Vietnam achieved success in their export-oriented industries - from tackling dependency on oil in the 1990s to diversifying their export goods.
"The country did not depend on just one sector, but utilised several ones. In comparison, Bangladesh's 80% exports depend on just one sector," he added.
Experts spoke in favour of completely reforming the government policies for increasing investments and businesses – especially exports. They also sought a strong, forward looking and effective economic diplomacy for attracting more foreign investments.
PRI Chairman Dr Zaidi Sattar presided over the event, while Planning Minister MA Mannan participated as the chief guest.
President of Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industries (DCCI) Rizwan Rahman said, "We do not want to lose any more companies like Samsung." Meanwhile, business leaders pointed out Bangladesh's lack of an effective initiative to tackle its dependency on just one type of exports.
There is a lot of talk on the issue, but nothing has been done as yet, they added.
Nihad Kabir, president of Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said, "On paper, everything is excellent. But what is our reality? No one wants to ask what the investors are seeking, and why they are leaving.
"We instead say, why do we need FDI? The foreigners bring in little money, but take a lot out."
Highlighting the challenges investors face in Bangladesh, Managing Director of Apex Footwear Ltd Syed Nasim Manzur said, "The government has flip flopping policies. Sometimes it is yes and sometimes it is no.
"The ease of doing business here suffers from issues – including with customs clearance, tariff rate and logistics. In Vietnam, a business can unload goods in 2/3 days, but in Bangladesh it takes 3/5 weeks."
Speaking at the event, Planning Minister MA Mannan said, "For the past few years, it has become a trend here to compare everything with Vietnam. We have to remember that they are a one party state.
"We cannot compare them with Bangladesh's politics. We do not have a lot of things in common with the country. But I assure you that I will consider your recommendations seriously."
Rubana Haq, former president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer & Exporters Association (BGMEA); Dr M Masrur Reaz, chairman of Policy Exchange of Bangladesh; Dr Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of CPD; and Dr Nazneen Ahmed, country economist of UNDP participated at the webinar among others.