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Immense possibilities but many challenges for Bangladesh

Immense possibilities but many challenges for Bangladesh

Dhaka : Industry leaders and business experts at the conference sounded caution, saying inadequate infrastructure, shortage of skilled resources and energy security were the biggest challenges in accelerating economic growth

Despite citing a long list of challenges, business leaders meeting in Dhaka for an investment conference were overwhelmingly positive about the country’s economic performance and outlook, saying Bangladesh was unique among peers.

Industry leaders and business experts at the conference on Sunday also sounded caution, saying inadequate infrastructure, shortage of skilled resources and energy security were the biggest challenges in accelerating economic growth.

The international business conference, titled “Destination Bangladesh: Gateway to growth and Development’ was organized by Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DCCI) to celebrate 60 years of its founding at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in Dhaka on Sunday.

“Bangladesh expected to become the 28th largest economy by 2030 and 23rd largest economy by 2050 in terms of GDP ranking on PPP basis. Bangladesh aspires to be a developed country by 2041, achieving per capital GDP of $12,000. An investment of $320 billion in infrastructure is required by 2030 to facilitate this economic transformation,” Abrar A Anwar, CEO of Standard Chartered Malaysia, said in his key note presentation.

The country has well established bilateral trade relationships with key partners. Bangladesh’s trade with South Asia stands at $7.6 billion, with the potential to ramp this up to $18.9 billion. Regional connectivity can be further accelerated through Bangladesh-China-India-Mynmar forum for Regional cooperation (BCIM), said Anwar.

To attract both domestic and foreign investment, he urged policymakers to focus on factors that drive ease of doing business, strengthening and greater alignment among institutional frameworks and improving efficiency through greater deployment of digitization.

“On the investment side, Bangladesh has been truly unique compared to some of our peer countries because the investment has been domestic, driven by local people,” Apex Footwear Ltd Managing Director Syed Nasim Manzur said.

“We have to stop selling labour, concentrate on making designs and create intellectual property. We will need education, skill and infrastructure. And skill training needs to be incentivized,” said Nasim, a former president of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“To accelerate the growth of investment, we need to address certain issues infrastructure deficiency, despite having many mega projects,” said Mahbubur Rahman, president of International Chamber of Commerce, Bangladesh, who moderated the plenary session of the program.

“Dhaka-Chittagong Expressway is now underway, four lane is done but it is must to accelerate investment,” said Mahbubur.

Sharing port capacity with any neighbour country at this point would be a mistake as the Chittagong Port struggles to handle local cargo, he said, stressing on the improvement the quality and capacity of the port to accelerate services for exporters.

To improve the ease of doing business, the business leader urged the government to make vehicular traffic management more scientific and automatic so that the costs are reduced.

According to research done in the business sector, traffic congestion eats up 1.3% of GDP, he said.

“Industrial land has become very scarce, the government planned to establish 100 SEZs but many of them did not come. This has to be developed on a priority basis so that Foreign Direct Investment and local investment can come to those sectors when needed,” he added.

“In accelerating economic growth, infrastructural inadequacy is the big bottleneck. To increase productivity, shortage of skilled human resource is another challenge. The third one is energy security. We need to alleviate energy shortage with aggressive investment,” Dr Shamsul Alam, member (senior secretary), General Economics Division said.

Syed Nasim Manzur urged the government to hand over the airport to somebody who knows how to manage one.

“First impression is the last impression. You cannot go on doing this and expect investment to happen,” he remarked.

“We need more quality and sustained foreign direct investment because it does not only bring capital but it brings technology, technical know-how and skills, quality and marketing,” said Nasim.

“The manufacturing advantage of Bangladesh, this what I see as the story of Bangladesh, and we can become the factory to the world like China is now,” he added.

“Bangladesh has come a long way on the development super highway and is ready for business with foreign investors, and the credit goes to the business people for making it happen,” Principal Secretary of Prime Minister’s Office Nojibur Rahman said.

“Public-private initiative is emerging as one of the potential drivers of country’s development. Even many of the initiatives are coming from foreign countries like Malaysia,” he said.

Terming private sector as the engine of economic development, Nojibur said that business people are the architects of the stable macro-economic framework that Bangladesh enjoys now.

“We have a massive demographic dividend and the government is putting effort on skill development in line with industry needs,” he said, putting emphasis on the involvement of industry experts and academicians in this effort.