Bangladesh: Miracle of the east

Muhammad Imran, Ambassador of Bangladesh to the UAE
Ibn Battuta, a fourteenth century Moroccan traveller and scholar who visited Bengal in 1346 AD, described this region as a water-soaked garden of immense fertility and opulence with abundance of food grains where most of the people were engaged in agriculture and in weaving textiles.

After almost seven centuries, the description of this renowned globetrotter still somehow fits to this deltaic plain of lush greenery that emerged in 1971 as an independent nation, Bangladesh. Today, this densely populated country of 144,000 sq km produces enough food for its 160 million people and with a booming apparel industry. Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of ready-made garments in the world. Although more than 50 per cent of the GDP is generated through the service sector, almost half of Bangladeshis are employed in the agriculture sector, with rice as the single-most-important product.

The nine-month war of liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 not only ravaged the economy but also completely destroyed the physical infrastructure of the country to such an extent that the country was ridiculed as a ‘basket case’ by a leading diplomat of that time. But the people of Bangladesh overcame this perilous economic and social condition with enormous courage and determination. They have strived and succeeded to rise from the ashes to bring vibrancy in the economy with continued expansion of infrastructural facilities.

Bangladesh has now become a role model for fighting poverty, empowering women and disaster management. It had met most targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the areas of health and education. Life expectancy at birth in the country is 71 years, at least five years higher than that of its neighbours.

Bangladesh has made commendable progress over the past 40 years in achieving food security despite frequent natural disasters and population growth. Food grain production increased three and half times between 1972 and 2016, from 10 million tonnes to 35 million tonnes with one of the fastest rates of productivity growth in the world averaging 2.7 per cent per year since 1995. It is the fourth largest producer of rice in the world. Bangladesh’s agricultural sector has benefited from a sound and consistent policy framework backed up by substantial public investments in technology, rural infrastructure and human capital.

From an agrarian economy of 1970s, the economy is now increasingly led by export-oriented industrialisation. Bangladesh has become an example of growth, progress and development for the emerging economies. With a continued average economic growth of over 6 per cent during the last 10 years and despite various challenges faced as a developing country, Bangladesh now proudly stands as an emerging trade and investment destination in South Asia. The steady growth in export business, hard-working labour force and committed entrepreneurs supported by the pro-business, pro-investment policies are leading Bangladesh towards the line of global business competency.

Bangladesh’s unequivocal position for peace, harmony and regional stability together with the determined policy for economic cooperation and development through international as well as regional trade have helped the country achieve and retain this impressive economic status. Despite all odds at national and international levels, Bangladesh has remained resilient and continued on with its economic growth trajectory, recording an impressive GDP growth rate of 7.1 percent in 2016.

Garment exports, the backbone of Bangladesh’s industrial sector, accounted for more than 80 per cent of total exports of $34.25 billion and surpassed $28 billion in 2016. The sector continues to grow. Other key sectors include pharmaceuticals, ceramics, leather goods, and electronics and light and medium industries. It is a major destination of global IT outsourcing and a globally acknowledged builder of ocean-going vessels. Bangladesh is one of the top bicycle exporters to the EU countries. The growth has been nurtured and sustained by adoption of newer technologies keeping pace with outside world. Bangladesh now has 130 million mobile phone users and about 60 million people are connected to the Internet.

Steady export growth combined with increasing flow of remittances from 10 million overseas Bangladeshis living across the world, which totalled about $15 billion, are the largest contributors to Bangladesh’s sustained economic growth. Bangladesh has also attained a satisfactory foreign currency reserve of $32 billion in recent months.

According to the World Bank and IMF, the Gross Domestic Product (based on current price) of Bangladesh is now $227 billion. It ranks Bangladesh as 44th in the world economy in terms of GDP. According to the World Bank, that will rise to $322 billion by 2021. Goldman Sachs had termed Bangladesh’s economy as ‘the miracle of East’.

In Bangladesh, a strong middle class is gradually forming which according to some estimates is close to 18 per cent of the population. Due to emerging middle class of about 30 million and in general better income level of common people, domestic demand is growing and that becomes an important driver of economic activity.

Bangladesh has been consistent in pursuing a policy of “friendship to all and malice towards none” as enshrined in the constitution. Bangladesh enjoys excellent relations with the member states of the UN. For more than two decades, Bangladesh remains a leading contributor to the UN peacekeeping missions across the globe. Currently, about 10,000 personnel from the armed forces and civil service of Bangladesh are assisting friendly countries under the UN peacekeeping missions.

The present government under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has adopted a long-term perspective plan and has been working hard to transform Bangladesh into a knowledge based middle-income economy (by raising the per capita income to $2,000 which now stands at $1,466) by 2021. It also aspires to become a developed country by 2041 and thus realise the dream of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to build a Sonar Bangla or Golden Bengal.