Tipu Munshi, Commerce Minister of Bangladesh, is in town to represent the South Asian nation at the Expo 2020 Dubai, which will be held from October 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022.
Khaleej Times caught up with him about the rapid growth and development in the densely populated nation, which has become a role model for its rapid economic progress.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
What's the secret behind Bangladesh's rapid economic growth bucking the global trend?
There are a few distinct reasons.
First, Bangladesh is a proud nation of fighters and entrepreneurs. Bangladeshis can endure prolonged hardship. This comes from our long freedom struggle and the spirit of Independence. More than three million people had laid down their lives for this country within a span of nine months to gain freedom from Pakistan in 1971.
We are a nation of 165 million people confined into an area of 144,000 square kilometres – making it the most densely populated country in the world.
Yet, we have a low crime rate – as people are peace-loving and entrepreneurial in nature. They can eke out a living on their own – if no external factors affect them. Bangladeshis have an in-built resilience.
Second, the inclusive growth strategy of the Sheikh Hasina Wajed-led government that is helping the empowerment of those at the bottom of the pyramid, which helped us to reduce poverty to a large extent in the last 12 years.
More people are coming out of poverty every year. The trend is reflected in our increasing purchasing power and domestic consumption. This is a key factor in our economic growth.
The dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ensured political, economic and social stability in Bangladesh. For the first time in our history, we have achieved a relatively good period of social, economic and political stability. This is very crucial for the development of our country.
Sheikh Hasina’s government is pro-business and pro-people, and she has dedicated all her resources to the growth and expansion of the Bangladeshi economy and the development of our country.
The country has undertaken massive infrastructure development projects – mostly with our indigenous resources. The capacity of our nation has expanded to a large extent.
Let me give you an example. We could not assemble bicycles a few decades ago. Now, we are manufacturing motorcycles and soon automobiles will be rolled out. We have launched satellites to improve the telecom and entertainment sector.
Hunger and grinding poverty are a thing of the past. With the socio-economic growth, development and empowerment of people, the nation's attitude has undergone a sea-change, which is echoed in distant rural areas as well. Bangladeshis have never had it so good because of a drastic improvement in several parameters such as education, livelihood, increased teledensity and mobile phone penetration.
Why should the developing nations follow Bangladesh's growth model?
Our story is inspiring for a number of reasons and could help other countries who are struggling with development challenges. The population density with lack of natural resources makes development a challenging task in a country like Bangladesh. We have made rapid strides, such as reduced child mortality rate, increased life expectancy, and an uptick in school enrolment.
The light of education is shining on a vast majority of our population, who are joining the ever-expanding private sector to eke out a decent existence. One of the key factors of our success is in women empowerment, which came about, thanks to free education, scholarships, stipends and other incentives. Women have evolved as the biggest agents of change in Bangladesh.
The World Bank data shows that Bangladesh's GDP growth averaged around 6 per cent from 2000 to 2019. How should the country align social mobility?
Fruits of the relatively and consistently high growth in GDP are now visible in our society. With an increasing number of people joining the job market and travelling abroad, we are experiencing a pressure on our infrastructure – roads, highways, ports, airports, power generation, power distribution, energy supply, pure drinking water, environmental pollution and other basic civic amenities.
There are infrastructure bottlenecks, and our government has undertaken a number of mega projects to improve connectivity to enable faster movement of goods and people. It will take some time for the infrastructure to catch up with supplies. We are managing the supply side, while the demand is shooting up at a fast pace. We are working towards creating enough infrastructure to meet the growing demand.
Bangladesh managed to be an outlier even during the Covid-19 pandemic, when its biggest neighbour India's economy shrank by 7.9 per cent. How did the country manage to pull off this astounding feat?
Our people and our leadership made the difference. Significantly, our people are our biggest strength. If they are not disturbed, they can change their fate through hard work.
Initially, during the Covid-19-induced lockdown in March-April 2020, our industries were open while complying with all social distancing protocols even though the world at large appeared to have shut down. The government made provisions for a relief package for businesses, and also incentivised work. There was never a let up in manufacturing even though our nation was under lockdown.
On the contrary, in the 2021 World Happiness Report, Bangladesh ranked 68th among 95 nations. What's the reason behind the wealth gap?
The ongoing development activities will bear fruits in a few years’ time, as we aspire to improve our ranking across all socio-economic indicators. We still have some distance to travel as far as narrowing the wealth gap is concerned. The gap will reduce if we can lift everyone who is languishing below the poverty line and empower the poor and the underprivileged. And the results will be evident in the near future.
How does Bangladesh seek to deepen its trade ties with the UAE and the other GCC nations?
Our exporters have been focusing on Europe and the Americas for long. However, that trend is undergoing a change. For instance, bilateral trade between Bangladesh and the UAE marginally grew to $1.85 (Dh6.8) billion in the 2020-2021 financial year, up from $1.84 (Dh6.7) billion recorded in 2018-19.
Bangladesh’s total exports to the UAE recorded a 32 per cent growth to $453.31 (Dh166) million in the 2019-2020 financial year, up from $343.50 (Dh1,262) million recorded in the previous 2018-19 financial year, despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The UAE has strengthened its position as the largest trading partner of Bangladesh in the Middle East, which reflects the strength and resilience of the economies of both the countries.
However, the UAE’s total exports to Bangladesh marginally declined to $1.4 (Dh5.11) billion in the 2019-2020 financial year, down from $1.5 (Dh5.5) billion recorded in the 2018-19 financial year.
These statistics show the continued growth in our bilateral relations with the UAE and the time-tested friendship that we have.
Bangladesh provides the best return on investment, and I take this opportunity to urge my compatriots in the UAE to invest in their beloved Bangladesh. Over a million Bangladeshi nationals remit around $2.5 billion (Dh9.1 million) to their homeland annually.
What's your takeaway from the Expo 2020, Dubai?
It is one of the greatest shows on Earth and a unique project to develop cultural understanding among people of all the countries and cultures. For me, what is amazing is the way Dubai organises such events. We all can learn from the UAE Government and the organisers of Dubai Expo 2020.
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