Bangladesh can overcome many of post-LDC graduation challenges by harnessing huge resources hidden in its bay-based blue economy, experts say and suggest urgent industrial modelling based on the riches.
Experts and businesspeople eye huge jobs, foreign investments and exports in multifaceted industries that can be built using the marine resources in 19,467-square-kilometre resource-rich bay area Bangladesh got through dispute settlement with India and Myanmar in international arbitration.
Huge offshore oil and gas reserves are yet beyond reach, they said at a meet, striking a note of optimism that the potential ocean economy may change the whole ecosystem of Bangladesh's economy.
Marine resources-based industries in tourism, shipbuilding, deep-sea fishing, container, medicine, cosmetics and the like can be developed.
They noted that the fast-growing economy of nearly 170- million-strong population would require more employment opportunities, diversified exports and foreign investment after its complete graduation from LDCs (least-developed countries), due in 2026.
And the ocean-based economy, which is projected to be leading the global economic growth in the years to come, will give enough impetus to sectors like ship-breaking, ship-making, container handling and logistics, marine fisheries, tourism and mineral resources that are labour-intensive, high-value exports and attractive for global investors.
To use the opportunities in a sustainable way, businesspeople and economists suggest the government facilitate businesses in harnessing the potential of the blue economy by delivering all the required services under one umbrella.
The suggestions and observations came at a workshop titled 'Prospects of Blue Economy of Bangladesh and Course of Action'.
The Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) and Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) jointly arranged the event where Prime Minister's private industry and investment adviser Salman F Rahman was present as the chief guest.
Presenting a keynote paper, secretary of maritime affairs unit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Md. Khurshid Alam said Bangladesh got a 19,467-quare-kilometre highly resourceful area in the Bay of Bengal after winning maritime-boundary disputes with Myanmar and India.
He said that the ocean-economic zone of Bangladesh is equal to 81 per cent of the mainland and there are 150,000 ships transporting goods through the ocean all over the world, which is worth 9.0 billion dollars.
"But Bangladesh owns only 70 ships although some 74 per cent of containers are used in Asia, which opens another wing of investment opportunity for Bangladesh as the total trade is growing at a rate of 15 per cent every year, meaning the demand for container will keep going up," he told the meet.
Although there are several seaports in Bangladesh, they are not suitable for mother vessels. In such a situation, the completion of Matarbari deep-sea port will help exploit the potential of blue economy, he added.
Mr Alam, also a retired rear admiral of Bangladesh's naval force, thus having firsthand experiences of the sea, said the total sea area of Bangladesh is 664 kilometres, but fish is harvested in only 60-kilometre waters.
Therefore, Bangladesh's share in global fish production is limited to only 2.6 per cent whereas China alone supplies 61 per cent of the world's fish.
"This is another highly potential area for investors," he said.
Talking about mineral resources, he said despite having a sea frontier, there is still a huge amount of offshore oil and gas beyond reach.
"Although several plans have been taken in this regard, it has not come into light. In contrast, Myanmar has already started extracting mineral resources from near the sea block of Bangladesh," he added.
Not only fish or mineral resources, rather Ocean Economy may change the whole picture of the economy of Bangladesh. By utilizing the marine resources, various industries, including tourism, shipbuilding, deep-sea fishing, container, medicine, and cosmetics industry, can be developed, according to him.
Speaking as chief guest, the prime ministerial adviser on private industry and investment, Salman F. Rahman MP, said blue economy is a new potential sector for investment in Bangladesh. "It is possible to export billion dollars from this sector in the next few years."
The adviser to the head of government advised the apex-chamber FBCCI and the BIDA to work together to find out why the progress of the once-emerging sector like shipbuilding industry is struggling, in order to fix the fit policy strategy.
Mr Rahman said deep-sea-fishing trawlers or ships can be built under the joint ownership of domestic and foreign firms. In this case, it is necessary to amend the policy of the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock.
Md Sirajul Islam, Executive Chairman of BIDA, who was the special guest at the workshop, said that an international investment conference is going to be held on November 26-29. The blue economy will be discussed separately at that conference.
He said the World Bank suspended publication of its key report 'Ease of Doing Business' but they decided to continue bringing reforms in various sectors to ensure business-friendly climate here.
Research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue Dr Khondakar Golam Moazzem told the meet the authorities need to transform the potential opportunities of the blue economy into a business model to attract investors.
He said there are 29 sectors in the ocean-based economy. "I think the government should prioritise the low-hanging fruits and make a quick plan accordingly."
The policy researcher adds: "There are also doubts about who is the guardian of this sector. Instead of different ministries working separately, if BIDA takes over the charge, quick benefits can be obtained."
Presiding over the workshop, FBCCI President Md Jashim Uddin said the maritime economy could play an effective role in attracting foreign investment and creating employment in the post-LDC era.
The FBCCI will submit recommendations to the government to determine the strategy for the sector based on the issues discussed at the workshop.
East-West University professor and FBCCI panel adviser Dr AK Enamul Haque said the growth of the world economy in the next 10 to 20 years will be blue economy-centric.
He called for investment in tourism, shipbuilding, shipbreaking, fishing, ports and maritime equipment to harness the blue economy.
Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Water Resources AKM Enamul Hoque Shameem and general secretary of Pacific Asia Travel Association Taufiq Rahman also spoke on the possibilities hidden in Bangladesh's vast waters connecting numerous littoral pockets of opportunities.