Bangladesh is a beautiful land, blessed with natural resources, fertile deltas and a vibrant young workforce.
Its economy continues to steam ahead, with an annual GDP growth rate averaging 6%-plus over the past decade, not far behind the growth rates of India and China.
Yet this “hidden tiger” continues to be ignored by investors and the media alike, who prefer to focus on a handful of violent protests in the country rather than its many strengths. As a result, Bangladesh still lingers in the shadows of its two neighbouring dragons, India and China.
As an optimist, a patriot, and a believer in Bangladesh’s fundamentals, I want to challenge some of these negative perceptions.
Bangladesh is constantly branded a “third world country” and is assumed to have all the stereotypical problems associated with such a country. Consequently, it is not fully integrated with the global economy. Formal and informal trade barriers, coupled with stories of corruption, make our trading partners suspicious and watchful.
But which of the BRIC – Brazil, Russia, China and India – emerging markets, or the CIVETS – Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa – do not also face such problems?
Yes, Bangladesh is suffering birth pangs and growing pains; it is only 40 years old after all. According to the CIA factbook, it is smaller than the US state of Iowa but has a population equalling that of Brazil.
Thanks to very large foreign currency deposits made by its exported unskilled labour force, Bangladesh has serious raw potential to grow and advance itself tremendously.
In the past, Bangladesh suffered due to a lack of political stability and government effectiveness. Martial law and military coups seriously hampered the country’s progress. But the military now believes in the potential of this democracy and the power of its people, as evidenced by the events of late 2011. It supported our young democracy and kept faith with the people.
I truly believe that Bangladesh’s politicians, on both sides of the house, are leaving no stone unturned in their quest to better the nation, encouraging investment in oil and gas exploration, power generation, air and sea port development, telecom infrastructure and the education sector.
But I also realize that there is a lot more to be done in healthcare, transport infrastructure, and sanitation, for example.
The lists of accomplishments and failures vary in length depending on whether you see the glass as “half-full” or “half empty”.
Bangladesh’s strong macroeconomic performance has contributed to healthy foreign reserves, GDP growth, and socio-economic improvement, while the government’s anti-inflationary steps have been encouraging.
Additionally, as Bangladesh strives to be the next rising star in South Asia and to be perceived as a country with serious economic potential, its most crucial goal has been to attract foreign direct investment. The lazy “third world” label is being rewritten as “emerging economy”.
I want to shout out to readers to look at the potential of Bangladesh. It is difficult to ignore the will of 160 million “Deshbandhu”, or friends of the nation, who are desperate to pull their country above the poverty line, through a combination of self-help and hand-holding. Above all, they want their voices to be heard.
So now that the growth of BRIC countries has hit a wall, perhaps we should create a more regional BRIC, where the “B” for Brazil is replaced by the “B” for Bangladesh.
Author: Golam Mostafa is chairman of the Deshbandhu Group of Bangladesh. He attended the World Economic Forum on India 2012.
Image: Bangladesh, a country rich in natural resources and human capital, is trying to escape its stereotypical image as a troubled “third world” country. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj