The country needs to encourage joint venture investments in multiple sectors by dedicating special economic zones (SEZs) to promising industries such as footwear to acquire higher skills and diversify exports, a business gathering was told on Thursday.
Business leaders also called for equitable treatment for other sectors like readymade garments (RMG) in policy and fiscal supports to smoothen Bangladesh’s transition to the status of a developing economy.
“RMG benefits should be given to other sectors… We all should be on the same page,” noted industrialist and former caretaker government adviser Syed Manzur Elahi said at a webinar on ‘LDC Graduation of Bangladesh: Transformation and Preparedness’, organised as part of the weeklong Bangladesh Trade & Investment Summit 2021, by the Ministry of Commerce and Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DCCI).
Dr Ahmad Kaikaus, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, addressed the event as chief guest, and emphasised strengthening the private sector’s further engagement in order to ensure sustainable graduation from the LDC status.
Mr Manzur Elahi pointed out that major global brands are looking for investment opportunities in countries like Bangladesh, so that the government should welcome investment in diverse sectors.
“There should be one SEZ for foreign investors in footwear since it’s not only a labour-intensive sector but also land-intensive sector. This can be a fantastic industry for export diversification,” he said.
Mr Manzur Elahi, Chairman of Apex Group, mentioned that the global footwear market would be increased from US$365 billion now to almost $500 billion market by 2040. “If we can catch even one per cent of the market, it would be at least $4.0 billion,” he said regretting that the country’s footwear export remained stuck at around $1.0 billion.
He stressed the need for following the path of China and Vietnam in encouraging joint ventures with global companies and said Vietnam had started footwear industry in 1990, the same time Bangladesh started the first such unit.
However, he pointed out, Vietnam has over 3,000 footwear factories compared to only 300 in Bangladesh. Vietnam’s footwear exports reached $16-17 billion-mark.
Mr Elahi also expressed concern over outward remittances by foreign workers in Bangladesh, amounting to $5-10 billion of hard-earned foreign exchange. “No nation can afford it,” he said suggesting that technology and skills transfer through joint venture could help overcome such problems.
Underlining the importance of a strategy for LDC graduation, Taufiqur Rahman, Board Member at the World Trade Organization (WTO), recommended that Bangladesh should enhance its negotiation capacity on the global platforms to overcome the challenges in the post-LDC era.
Abul Kasem Khan, Chairperson, BUILD and former DCCI President, recommended jobs creation, business reforms for increasing economic freedom, and research and development for making Bangladesh more competitive and creative more comparative advantage in the days to come.
DCCI President Rizwan Rahman moderated the virtual session on day 3 of the investment summit, while Tapan Kanti Ghosh, Secretary at the Ministry of Commerce, gave welcome speech.
Dr Musfata Abid Khan, a former member of Tariff Commission, and Yesim Baykal, Programme Management Officer at United Nations Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries spoke at the event.