Monday, 2 October, 2023

Out of the Box

Brussels Conference and Bangladesh’s Development Progress

Dr. Rashid Askari

The Study Circle London and the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) jointly organised an international conference on July 5, 2023 entitled “EU-Bangladesh Cooperation: Opportunities and the Bengal Tiger Economy” which was held at EIAS in Brussels. As the title suggests, the conference showcases Bangladesh's economic miracle and recognizes the government's success story. It aims to throw light on Bangladesh's phenomenal economic growth—from emerging economy to global player-- over the past decade. However, the conference also underscores the significance of such a platform in promoting its transition to a developed country. Shaping a bright future for Bangladesh, the landmark conference highlights   Bangladesh's achievements and the transformative policies implemented under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's leadership. Her unwavering commitment to inclusive development, poverty alleviation, and sustainable growth has been instrumental in steering the country towards its current trajectory of progress. During the conference, renowned economists and policymakers commended Bangladesh's inclusive economic growth model, emphasizing the importance of investing in human capital, infrastructure, and innovation. They highlighted the need for continued efforts to address challenges such as income inequality, infrastructure development, and climate change resilience.

The conference also highlighted Bangladesh's impressive achievements in various sectors and emphasized its emerging role as a key player in the global economy. Bangladesh, a South Asian nation with a population of over 160 million, has made remarkable strides in economic development, attracting attention and admiration from the international community. That Bangladesh's development model impresses international experts has been recognized by the prestigious conference. The government's focus on creating a business-friendly environment, promoting foreign direct investment, and implementing structural reforms has fostered economic growth and attracted international recognition. Sheikh Hasina's strategic initiatives, such as the establishment of special economic zones and the facilitation of public-private partnerships, have encouraged investment and facilitated industrial expansion. As Bangladesh continues its development trajectory, it is imperative to recognize the significance of forums such as this international conference. Such gatherings facilitate knowledge-sharing, foster global partnerships, and encourage collaboration on key issues, ultimately accelerating Bangladesh's journey towards achieving developed country status.

The conference has served as a platform to discuss the factors contributing to its sustained growth. Over the last decade, Bangladesh has experienced an average annual GDP growth rate of 6%, surpassing many of its regional counterparts. This remarkable economic performance has catapulted the country into the group of middle-income countries years ahead of schedule, with a burgeoning middle class and a rising consumer base. Bangladesh has made significant strides in various sectors, positioning itself as a nation of immense potential. One sector that stands out is the energy industry, with Bangladesh witnessing a substantial expansion in power generation capacity. The government's efforts to enhance electricity production through renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, have not only addressed domestic energy needs but also opened doors for investment and collaboration with international partners.

The conference sheds light on Bangladesh's advancements in the education sector. The country has made notable progress in improving access to education, reducing gender disparity, and enhancing the quality of education. Initiatives such as stipends for girls, the development of vocational training programs, and increased investment in research and innovation have contributed to building a skilled, educated and future-ready global workforce, essential for sustainable development.

The agriculture sector, which employs a significant portion of the population, has witnessed significant advancements in productivity and technology adoption. The government's focus on agricultural modernization, investment in irrigation systems, and provision of microcredit to farmers has resulted in increased agricultural output and improved food security. Additionally, the country has made substantial progress in the manufacturing sector, with industries such as shipbuilding, pharmaceuticals, and electronics experiencing significant growth and attracting foreign direct investment.

Bangladesh's textiles and garments industry, one of the main contributors to the nation's economic growth, has undergone a remarkable transformation. The country has emerged as the second-largest exporter of readymade garments globally, leveraging its competitive labor costs and a skilled workforce. Moreover, Bangladesh has made substantial strides in ensuring workplace safety and workers' rights, addressing concerns raised after the tragic Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. These efforts have not only enhanced the industry's reputation but also attracted international buyers, leading to increased export earnings.

The services sector, including information technology, telecommunications, and banking, has also played a crucial role in Bangladesh's economic advancement. The government's investment in digital infrastructure, expansion of mobile network coverage, and promotion of digital literacy have fostered the growth of the digital economy. Bangladesh is now considered one of the fastest-growing IT outsourcing destinations and has seen a surge in the number of technology startups. The country's banking sector has witnessed significant improvements as well, with greater financial inclusion and increased access to banking services for the previously unbanked population.

Another sector that has experienced remarkable development is tourism. Bangladesh's natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and historical landmarks have attracted an increasing number of international visitors. The government's efforts to promote tourism through infrastructure development, eco-tourism initiatives, and cultural events have led to a significant boost in tourist arrivals, contributing to the country's economic growth and creating employment opportunities.

Moreover, Bangladesh's progress in the healthcare sector has also been highlighted during the conference. The government's commitment to improving healthcare infrastructure, expanding access to quality healthcare services, and implementing health awareness programs has resulted in notable advancements in public health indicators. The country has made significant strides in reducing child mortality rates, increasing immunization coverage, and combating infectious diseases, improving the overall well-being of its citizens.

The conference will help delve into the fifty years of diplomatic relations and the robust trade partnership between the EU, the destination for 50 per cent of Bangladeshi global exports and Bangladesh, explored the implications of Bangladesh's remarkable development, and assessed the opportunities for enhanced future collaboration between both partners. The two entities are now seeking to expand their cooperation beyond trade into areas such as climate change, security, connectivity, migration, and the blue economy. This cooperation is based on shared values in democracy, social justice, gender equality, human rights, and a secular government. In addition, the partners also aim to address issues such as the displacement of Myanmar nationals and Rohingya refugees.

The successful holding of the Brussels conference lends credence to the fact that the international community has taken note of Bangladesh's economic achievements. The country's successful poverty reduction efforts, including targeted social safety net programs and microfinance initiatives, have garnered global acclaim. Moreover, Bangladesh's commitment to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals has been acknowledged by various international bodies.

The international conference provided a platform to recognize and applaud Bangladesh's achievements in the above sectors, emphasizing their importance in the nation's journey towards becoming a developed country. The discussions held during the conference also highlighted the need for continued investment, policy reforms, and international cooperation to further bolster Bangladesh's progress in these key areas.

Bangladesh's commitment to inclusive development, poverty reduction, and achieving sustainable development goals has earned admiration from the international community. As the country moves forward, continued investments in infrastructure, human capital, and innovation will be crucial to ensure sustained progress and address the remaining challenges. Bangladesh's success story serves as an inspiration for other developing nations and underscores the importance of strategic planning, policy implementation, and international cooperation in achieving remarkable economic growth.

The Brussels Conference has become a symbol of the government's success and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's legendary leadership. Through visionary policies and a commitment to inclusive development, the government has propelled Bangladesh towards remarkable progress. The recognition and accolades received from the international community further validate the government's efforts and position Bangladesh as a shining example of successful leadership and transformative governance.


The writer is an academic, translator and former vice chancellor of Islamic University, Bangladesh