Bangladesh should proactively engage with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to redress any fallout from the emerging geopolitics-geoeconomics diarchies in aftermaths of pandemic and the country's LDC graduation, policy researchers suggest.
They have a special note of caution for safe rope walking in the wake of realignment of global powers with their politico-diplomatic and economic prowess, with particular reference to the developments close to home: China-India rivalry.
Speaking Monday at a virtual meet some of them favoured Bangladesh playing a safe card pursuing productive relations with both China and India judicious for aid and trade preferences from the regional powers, without falling into either's 'orbit' of influence.
State Minister for Planning Dr Shamsul Alam told the webinar that the government is laying emphasis on investment diversification alongside enlarging export basket.
"The current policy documents are tuned to addressing the adverse implications of the geoeconomics and so far the country has taken a cautious approach without falling into the power play of any regional or global powers," he said while speaking as chief guest at the programme.
Economic Reporters' Forum (ERF) in collaboration with the Research Policy Integration for Development (RAPID) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) organised the web-based seminar on 'Geoeconomics in the Aftermath of the Covid-19 Pandemic: Trade and Development Perspectives from Bangladesh'.
Experts from government, academia, industry, and media joined the event as panelists. Dr Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished fellow at the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), moderated the webinar.
Dr M Abu Eusuf, Executive Director of RAPID and professor of Dhaka University, and Mr Felix Kolbitz, Resident Representative of FES Bangladesh, delivered their welcome remarks.
RAPID Chairman Dr Mohammad Abdur Razzaque, eminent economist and international trade expert, presented a keynote highlighting that world trade and other major forces of globalisation are now passing through a turbulent time for certain latest developments.
He noted that the rise of geoeconomics-the use of various economic and trade policy instruments by global and regional economic powers to promote their national interests and geopolitical influence-undermines the rules-based multilateral trading system led by the WTO.
In the keynote Dr Razzaque pointed out that there could be a prolonged period of uncertainty as some of the leading economies scramble for their economic and geopolitical gains.
"As Bangladesh wants to benefit from being geographically located in the vicinity of the world's two largest growth centres in India and China, the geopolitical rivalry of the two countries, however, makes the region a geoeconomics power- play ground," he said.
He noted that a reinforced integration of foreign policy, trade policy, and economic development objectives is needed.
Dr Razzaque also underscored that Bangladesh should strongly advocate for strengthening the multilateral trading system with a transparent dispute- settlement procedure by incorporating reforms to contain the indiscriminate use of geoeconomic tools.
He recommended that Bangladesh must also maintain productive relations with both China and India, judiciously using their financial assistance and trade preferences, while not falling into the "power orbit" of either.
Alongside trying to revitalise SAFTA and bring dynamism into BIMSTEC, Bangladesh should pursue RCEP membership.
He said Bangladesh must work on improving diplomatic and trade-negotiation capacities so that the development objectives can be effectively pursued.
Discussant Dr Nazneen Ahmed, country economist of UNDP Bangladesh, said that it is very important to set the right priorities while engaging with the development partners.
Mr Faiyaz Murshid Kazi, Director-General (West Europe & EU wing), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, highlighted that Bangladesh is now adopting a multi-front approach and exploring different frontiers to enhance regional connectivity.
Salma Akhtar, professor of Sociology at the University of Dhaka, said, "We must not lose sight of the gender dimensions of development."
Mr Mohammad Jahirul Quayum, Deputy Secretary, Export & LDC Graduation Wing at the Ministry of Commerce, brought in the issue of looking at welfare of the consumers in the post-LDC (Least Developed Country) period.
Ferdaus Ara Begum, Chief Executive Officer at BUILD, recommended an in-depth study and necessary policy action to see why the pledged investments by China and India are not being materialised.
Dr Shahab Enam Khan, professor of International Relations at Jahangirnagar University, stressed the importance of taking a cautious approach to engaging with the regional and global powers.
Dr Rudabeh Shahid, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of York, opined that Bangladesh should engage with Bhutan and Nepal alongside India to bring hydroelectricity into the country.
Dr Mahfuz Kabir, Research Director at Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), urged that Bangladesh act fast to benefit from the untapped opportunities in the markets of China and India.