The port city of Chittagong has strategic importance not only in the Bangladesh economy but also in regional economic co-operation and development. It has a crucial role to play in regional connectivity. Chittagong is at the crossroads of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia due to its strategic location and beautiful seaside. It has every potential to transform itself as one of the global financial centres and regional transshipment hub across northeast India, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and southeast China. Considering geopolitical and economic alignment specially restructuring in Chinese and Indian economy, rearrangement in the European Union zone (such as Brexit), consequential trade rearrangement after the US presidential election and in the backdrop of domestic macro-economic achievements and set goals to become middle-income country by year 2021 and a developed country by 2041, it's highly vital to set strategic planning to develop Chittagong region in a planned way.
Chittagong at present generates 40 per cent of industrial output, 80 per cent of international trade and 50 per cent of revenue of the government. For hundreds of years, it has been an inevitable part of the economy of this region. But Chittagong has not been developed like other commercial hubs of the world.
The present government and political leaders have a vision to develop Chittagong. In line with this vision, many infrastructure development projects are underway. But planned investment is needed for development of Chittagong with a view to transforming it as a commercial hub of the region and ultimately to make it the commercial capital of the country with political and administrative supports. It should be considered as a strategic move regarding national investment to expedite economic growth of the country.
Our national economic and administrative structure is designed in such a way that the capital city Dhaka and its surrounding areas are over-saturated in the context of population, administration, industrialisation, communication, etc. Most probably, the reason behind underdevelopment of Chittagong is long and gradual political and administrative centralisation. Our administrative centralisation led to commercial centralisation towards the capital city. But in many countries of the world, including our neighbours, commercial centralisation has taken place on the basis of its strategic, geographical and other commercial advantages and at the same time, administrative structure and centralisation has not affected commercial centralisation. This is urgent and important for balanced, uninterrupted and rapid economic growth as well as for a sound and effective political administrative system.
In this perspective, it is high time strategic advantages of Chittagong for regional economic co-operation were utilised with a view to expediting national economic growth. It is the need of time to move gradually towards segregation of commercial capital from administrative capital. For this, a well-planned, systematic and coordinated national investment is important in Chittagong region along with political administrative restructuring rather than traditional need-based national investment. Specialised segment in the development budget with different implementation modules may be considered by our political leaders.
It is obvious that to start this journey, political leaders and policymakers may consider the following natural advantages of Chittagong region:
1. Chittagong is one of the hundred top-listed sea ports of the world;
2. Geographically advantageous location to establish regional economic corridor;
3. Huge potential to construct a deep sea port;
4. Potential of river connectivity in the long coastal belt;
5. Great scope for expanding small, light, medium and heavy industries;
6. Huge options to flourish tourism industries through utilisation of the longest sea beach, hills, mountains, rivers and other scenic natural beauties;
7. Opportunities for unique blending of economic importance of a region and tourism facility;
8. Potential to explore untapped blue economy;
9. Opportunity to produce sufficient power and energy; and
10. Apart from all this, other factors for economic growth like population, education, culture, language and heritage of Chittagong are also suitable for economic activities.
Massive infrastructure development in an organised and scientific way is required to take advantage of the above features. The development of the port city of Chittagong in a planned way may be considered as a strategic national investment. This is not for regional development only. Rather, this is directly linked to national interest and development.
The writer is managing director of Chittagong Stock Exchange.