Of the few success stories that Bangladesh can take pride in, Export Processing Zone (EPZ) is one. This is about a land area developed by the government and provided with necessary infrastructure, utilities and special facilities for businesses interested in establishing 100 per cent export-oriented industries. It all started with the setting up of the first EPZ in 1983 in Chattogram. That the idea of EPZ had its appeal to investors, both local and foreign, was amply demonstrated by the fact that a decade later, the second such export-dedicated zone for industries came into existence near the capital city at Savar. And to meet growing investors' demand, the country has already developed eight EPZs spread across the country. But in economic terms, what is the contribution of the EPZs so far? As the BEPZA estimate goes, in the FY 2020-21 alone, the foreign exchange earnings from the EPZs amounted to US$6.64 billion, which is around one-sixth of the total earnings from the exports.
The government body, Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA), that oversees the operation of the EPZs, is learnt to have started the work for developing the ninth such location to draw investments for diversified export-based industries. Being built on 1150 acres of land, this new industrial zone, called a BEPZA EPZ, it is said, would be divided into 539 industrial plots. Interestingly, as reported in the Wednesday's issue of this paper, 107 of those plots, out of the 140 so far developed, have meanwhile been provisionally allotted to the prospective investors. What is more, some 250 applications for plots in the BEPZA EPZ are awaiting settlement.
Evidently, that speaks of quite a pressure from the businesses willing to invest in this new EPZ yet to be fully developed. Yet, this is definitely a welcome development at a time when Bangladesh is looking to join the club of developing nations. Arguably, there cannot be any better way to improve the nation's position on the world's economic map than by becoming a favourite destination of foreign direct investment (FDI). It would be worthwhile to take especial note of the fact that there has been an emphasis on diversified export while developing this new EPZ in question. Doubtless, this is germane to the issue at hand. In fact, Bangladesh's export has so far remained too reliant on a single product, the Readymade Garment (RMG). But being in a business world where change is the only constant, Bangladesh, as an emerging economy will be well-advised to widen its export base to survive any untoward economic shock in the future.
Under the circumstances, the government should encourage both local and foreign entrepreneurs to invest in new exportable products and create the condition to that end. It goes without saying that the EPZs can eminently provide the ideal opportunity for the willing investors. Seeing that interest among the potential investors to have a plot in the EPZs is on the rise, the government should actively consider significantly increasing the number of such export-oriented economic zones. The good news is the BEPZA chief is said to have informed the media that the government has been actively considering setting up of three more diverse product-focused EPZs at different locations of the country. At this point, the government would be required to play its facilitating role more vigorously and present Bangladesh as a FDI destination for diverse products.