Bangladesh needs to maintain competitiveness in the global market by increasing productivity, reducing business costs through infrastructure and policy support and improving product designs and quality to move the economy forward by tackling the potential losses in trade and foreign aid benefits after its graduation from the status of a least developed country (LDC), experts have said.
While speaking at a webinar organised by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Bangladesh (Icab) on Monday evening, they also observed that the establishment of a fashion design institute, a special economic zone and an active pharmaceutical (API) park would help the country achieve the status of a sustainable developing country by 2026.
Shubhashish Basu, former senior secretary of the government and chief executive officer of Icab, presented the keynote paper at the online seminar styled "LDC Graduation: Challenges and Opportunities".
Mentioning that after LDC graduation, Bangladesh will no longer enjoy the facilities to get priority in foreign trade, foreign grants and flexible loans, he said the country should try to get GSP Plus facilities in the European Union, increase access to other markets, diversify products and markets to mitigate the negative impacts of the transition.
Speaking as the chief guest, Planning Minister MA Mannan said it was an honour to come out of the list of poor countries. However, the graduation will be meaningful only if it can be made sustainable, he added.
He said Bangladesh is upbeat about the prediction that it will be the 20th strongest economy in the world in the future. However, as Bangladesh ranks ninth in the world in terms of population, the country should climb to the ninth position in terms of economic strength as well, the minister argued.
In order to do this, everyone's efficiency has to be increased, he mentioned, adding, "But, it's not that easy to do."
Speakers at the webinar highlighted various problems including increased cost of business, corruption and business-unfriendly tax structure.
In this regard, the planning minister said, "Corruption is everywhere like air. We have to work here by saving ourselves through accepting something and avoiding something."
He added that foreign investment would not come unless good governance is ensured. "We have to create equal opportunities for all."
He also commented that the government is working to solve all the problems.
Planning Commission member Sharifa Khan said all discussions and efforts on LDC graduation are limited to a few sectors.
That is why, export earnings by the second largest export sector in the country is merely $1 billion while that of the top export sector – RMG – is $34 billion.
She suggested that all facilities, including bonded warehouses, be opened up to other sectors alongside the ready-made garment sector.
He also mentioned that FDI inflow has increased in all the six countries that have graduated from the LDC status.
Bangladesh is establishing high-tech parks and economic zones to attract more FDI, she noted, adding the local entrepreneurs are also benefiting from those infrastructures.
ICAB President Mahmudul Hasan Khusru FCA delivered the welcome address at the webinar presided over by its former president Md Humayun Kabir.
Manzur Ahmed, adviser to the FBCCI, told the event that the growth of the industry depends on the cost of doing business. And the cost of doing business depends largely on the tariff structure. He suggested revising the tax structure in addition to ensuring good governance.
Mentioning that the European Union is the largest export destination for Bangladesh, Syed Nasim Manzur, managing director of Apex Group, said most efforts should be made to protect this market.
Mostafa Abid Khan, member of the Bangladesh Tariff Commission, said it is a matter of pride to graduate from the LDC group, but the problem is that responsibilities increase after the graduation.
He also said the government is coming up with huge incentives for exports every year. These incentives will have to be stopped after the transition, he opined, and suggested increasing the capacity of the industrial sector.