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How Bangladesh can become an Attractive Investment Destination -By Mahir Abrar Nikhat

National

Bangladesh economy has achieved remarkable growth on the back of rising RMG export, steadily increasing remittance flow, and growing domestic demand for goods and services. Bangladesh’s average growth of 6.2%, over last one decade, has been remarkable considering the series of internal and external shocks impacting the economy. From the global financial crisis in 2008 to series of political turmoil in 2013-15, the economy has successfully weathered the storm and is well on course in achieving the middle-income status. Due to growing economy, the impact is already being felt in terms of declining levels of absolute poverty level (31%), with Bangladesh successfully attained lower middle-income status in 2014.
Bangladesh’s geo-strategic location in the vicinity of India and China, also puts further credence to the argument that the country’s economy would forge ahead in the future. With the recent visit of Chinese premier, and promises of up to USD 24 billion in investment, Bangladeshi private sector and policymakers have reasons to be optimistic about the country’s future. The country is also part of the much talked about ‘silk route’ initiative, which looks to maximize regional trade and investments. Bangladesh’s immediate neighbor India, is also invested in the country’s future, through its USD 2 billion loan lines and joint venture infrastructure deals.

Population a Boon to Progress
Bangladesh’s population has long been viewed as a liability. But with a growing population, the average age of the population has tilted to 23.4 years, with 60% of population below the age of 30, and 2.2 million people entering the job market each year. Utilizing this population segment is of paramount importance for growing at 8% level in the coming years. In order to put these resources to use, the country needs to inject more investment, both from local investors and foreign investors. These large scale investment, preferably in the secondary sector, would boost employment. As a result, the idle resources would be put into use to accelerate growth.
According to World Bank and Bangladesh bank statistics, a country’s GDP to investment ratio should ideally be around 32%.  Bangladesh’s GDP to investment ratio has historically hovered around 27-28%, mainly due to large savings-investment gap, overall lack of business confidence, and scarcity of land and utility connections. Country’s FDI level has also remained stagnant.

Views from the Private Sector
Entrepreneurs and top level executives from different organizations cutting across different sectors, play important roles in channeling investments. Their views are crucial in gauging the current business climate and future investment and growth prospects. In order to understand the pulse of the private sector, LightCastle Partners recently launched the Bangladesh Confidence Index 2016.
According to survey, infrastructure development has been identified as a major problem, which includes inadequate roads and highways, insufficient power generation. Besides, there is also a gap in quality of human resources and skill-sets required by employers. Alongside, lack of transparent rules and regulations has been creating problems for many industries e.g. FMCG.

Opportunity Landscaping
Despite number of complaints, representatives of the private sector are not totally bearish about the country’s economic prospects. They have identified a number of sectors which have potential for growth.

How to Move Ahead?
In order to achieve the middle-income status within 2021, government needs to create a business climate conducive to investment. Views of the private sector players should play an integral role in shaping Government’s economic policies.=
The newly formed BIDA must play an active role in weeding out red tape at all levels. Following Government’s Digital Bangladesh Vision, foreign investment process must be made transparent through digitization. Company formation procedure must be made hassle-free, especially for joint venture and fully foreign owned initiatives. By placing maximum emphasis on secondary sector based investments, dedicated investment managers, appointed by BIDA, must be appointed to maintain close collaboration with potential investors. Another means would be to provide formal licenses to private sector firms, which would provide end-to-end solutions to foreign investors.
Private economic zones must be promoted and local private sector conglomerates must be encouraged for setting up private economic zones for foreign investors. Local investors must also be provided necessary utility connections for their factories on a preferential basis.
Investments must be channeled where it is most needed. Investments coming from Indian and Chinese Governments must be fully utilized for infrastructure development, as well as for government financed or PPP based power plants. The LNG terminal and coal based power plants would provide necessary wherewithal for the energy hungry economy and support future growth.
Economic activities should cease to be surrounding Dhaka and Chittagong regions. Local conglomerates must be incentivized to open up new factories in the less developed regions. This would not only increase development in those areas, but will help decrease regional unemployment rates and discourage migration to larger cities.

Bangladesh is at the crux of attaining middle-income status, and is already garnering attention from the World community. World Bank has identified Bangladesh as an economic success. Regional economies are giving the vote of confidence by channeling investments within the country. As Bangladesh stands at this crucial juncture, it is imperative that the country gets its house in order by improving overall business climate.
The time is ripe for Bangladesh to assert itself as a new emerging economic tiger. n

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