From a ‘Bottomless basket’ to Asia’s ‘Economic bull case’
Bangladesh's economic journey in the past 50 years has been a rough ride through rocky roads. The country once sarcastically labelled as a 'bottomless basket' by a notorious US secretary of state in the early 70s is now racing towards becoming Asia's 'Economic bull case'.
Last Wednesday, the globally renowned US-based business daily, The Wall Street Journal has praised the remarkable development of Bangladesh's economy in recent years, dubbing the country as "South Asia's economic bull case." Bangladesh is the closest proxy in South Asia for the successful export-led development models employed in Southeast Asian nations Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as global economic powerhouse China.
However, The WSJ report is published in the wake of the UN Committee for Development Policy's recent recommendation that Bangladesh graduate from Least Developed Country (LDC) status. A massive 80% increase in exports in Bangladesh over the past decade has coincided with a dip in neighbouring India and Pakistan. The gap in GDP per capita between Bangladesh and India was 40% in 2011, but the former has now caught up.
As much as the WSJ report is promising and inspiring for all of us, it leaves no room for complacency. Besides praising the country's economic success story, the WSJ also stressed the need for Bangladesh to follow the example of Vietnam and transition to high-value manufacturing and exports to maintain growth and reduce excessive dependency on the garment industry.
More to it, there are some potential obstacles in the development of Bangladesh economy. That for instance, our export growth is much lower than Vietnam or Cambodia. Exports to these countries have tripled and more than doubled in the last ten years, respectively. India's exports boomed in the early 2000s and then 'stagnated'. So it is important to remember that there is no guarantee that there will be a continuous upward trend.
However, diversifying our export basket would require greater participation in Asian trade blocs, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. It's time for both our private and public sectors to focus on this issue.
Last of all, well positioned in the race to turn into an 'Economic bull case', what's badly eating up our economic and development progress is widespread corruption. Unless the government and the people collectively address corruption as a whole, we fear, our economic progress achieved so far will be severely hampered while taking a back seat.