The Financial Express

Stakeholders suggest thrust on rural-focused e-commerce

| Updated: April 15, 2021 10:42:38

Stakeholders suggest thrust on rural-focused e-commerce

Bangladesh still faces challenges like lower rate of smartphone penetration, exorbitant mobile data price, lack of physical infrastructure and business-friendly policy for expansion of e-commerce in rural areas.

Policy-makers, industry insiders and experts identified the challenges during a webinar on Sunday.

They said Digital Bangladesh would not be successful without adequate physical infrastructure and digital highway connecting rural areas to cities and towns.

The speakers said major small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are operating outside urban areas.

If they are not connected with well-organised logistic support, supply chain and digital highway, they said, SMEs would never be able to contribute to the expected level of Digital Bangladesh.

Business initiatives in rural areas should be included into a database so that their products could reach the entire country through digital commerce.

The speakers said this during a session of a virtual conference on 'Rural e-Commerce in a Post-Covid World: Leveraging Local Sourcing for a Global Market'.

The e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB) organised the conference titled 'Rural to Global Ecommerce Policy Conference-2021'.

The virtual programme was held in two sessions.

Speaking at the second session, post and telecommunications minister Mustafa Jabbar said mobile internet prices have reduced significantly over the years, but it is still not affordable in rural areas.

Access to smartphones and affordable internet connection are crucial for rural digital commerce.

"We'll work on policies so that the locally manufactured smartphones become more affordable for rural users," he said.

The minister said postal division would play its role through helping digital commerce to grow.

Post and telecommunications division secretary Afzal Hossain said the country is at a preliminary stage in e-commerce. But it's growing rapidly.

Without rural connectivity, he said, it would not reach an expected level.

Speaking at the first session, state minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak said participation in F-commerce or Facebook commerce in Bangladesh is rising at a significant rate.

At least 4,00,000 new entrepreneurs are associated with F-commerce, he said, adding that Bangladesh Bank is going to arrange loans at 4.0-per cent interest for them alongside small businesses linked with start-ups.

Mr Palak said the issue of deregulation along with the regulation of online infrastructure needs serious consideration for new innovations.

He also praised the proactive role played by the e-CAB during the pandemic and highlighted various initiatives taken by the government.

Local government and rural development minister Tajul Islam opened the first session of the policy conference at 11:00 am where senior commerce secretary Hafizur Rahman presented a keynote.

Dr Zafar Uddin, senior commerce secretary, was present at the event as the special guest.

He said commerce ministry is working on implementing the digital commerce policy for which a digital commerce cell has also been formed.

"The Digital Commerce Management Guideline-2021 is being finalised and the ministry is considering the inclusion of social media commerce entrepreneurs."

Obaidul Azam, chief executive officer of BFTI, said a registration process for social media-based entrepreneurs as an alternative to a trade licence would boost consumer confidence and pave the way for cooperation with the larger entrepreneurial world.

Farah Md Naser, deputy governor of Bangladesh Bank, said if an escrow facility of Bangladesh Bank is implemented, it will create a safety barrier for buyers making online payments.

Complexities over cross-border e-commerce payments would also be resolved, he observed.

Sayed Mohammad Kamal, country manager of MasterCard, said the growth in online transactions over the past year needs to be sustained.

"This situation will improve further if certain benefits for card users in financial transactions are ensured," he added.

BASIS president Syed Almas Kabir said e-commerce should be brought under a fair rule.

"If there is a 'bad apple' here, it should be removed and the action plan should be laid out by focusing on gaining the confidence of consumers."

The discussion was presided over by e-CAB president Shomi Kaiser.

A2I policy advisor Anir Chowdhury, Build CEO Ferdous Ara Begum, Dhaka University's BM Mainul Hasan and Dhamaka Shop's MD Jasimuddin Chishti, among others, also attended.

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