Economists at a seminar on trade and investment on Wednesday highlighted the urgency for a comprehensive trade policy for accelerating the country’s economic growth.
Despite many challenges, the country’s trade and GDP ratio, they said, raised to 50 percent in last fiscal from 19 per cent in early 90s. To sustain the growth and push the country’ GDP towards a steady growth, they also stressed the need for further liberalisation of the country’s trade regime. Dwelling on the country’s overall trade regime Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed, who attended the meeting as the chief guest, equally emphasised on protection of local industries to consolidate the country’s industrial base.
He pointed out the country is moving towards a positive direction and is likely to achieved the export target of US$ 30.5 billion, fixed for the current fiscal.
The country achieved a 13 percent export growth during the first nine month (July-March period) of current fiscal (2013-14). The rate, the minister said, is at per with the government target.
The minister was addressing the seminar titled ‘Trade and Investment for higher growth’, jointly organized by the Policy Research Institute (PRI) of Bangladesh and the Department for International Development (DFID) of UK at the PRI headquarters in the capital.
Terming trade as the engine of growth Tofail said the country desperately needs to diversify its export products as well exploring new markets to have a vibrant export growth.
Presenting a keynote paper at the seminar PRI executive director Ahsan H. Mansur said that the country achieved the real GDP growth target in fiscal year (FY) 2010-11 but failed in FY12 and FY13.
“The growth targets for the last two years were ambitious and required bold initiatives to break away from the 6 per cent growth rate recorded in the 5-year period preceding the sixth 5-year plan”, he said.
He observed: "We must take a hard look at the real issues of infrastructure, strengthening institutions dealing with dispute resolution, skill development for the workers and quality of health and education to attract investment including foreign direct investment."
PRI chairman Dr Zaidi Sattar presented another keynote paper on trade policy for boosting the manufacturing sector. He said trade policy orientation needs to change in order to support high manufacturing growth.
He said it is high time for removing various tariff and non-tariff barriers to ease the trade, especially with the neighbouring India, and give domestic consumers some relief.
Accelerating manufacturing growth will require a comprehensive trade policy regime that is globally competitive.
He noted, import-substituting industries catering to the domestic market cannot create jobs for the two million people, being added to the job market every year. “But export oriented industries can help substantially in this regard,” he said.
Despite Bangladesh exports worth $27 billion to over 150 nations in FY 12-13, 80 per cent of exports went to USA and Canada in North America, the 27 member countries of the European Union and Japan.
He suggested that BRICS, Australia and South Korea would be foremost in the list of fastest growing RMG markets for Bangladesh, with market size of $23 trillion.
Dr. Khurshid Alam, PRI operations director presented another keynote paper at the seminar on “Special Economic Zones as Catalyst for Investment.”
Dr. Selim Raihan, professor of Economics at the University of Dhaka said, “There is a need for a comprehensive, strategic trade policy in the country.” The trade policy should be open for all and must not be based on any lobbying, he said.
The country has ‘comparative advantages’ in many goods, but the country lacks in ‘competitive advantages’, said the prominent trade specialist of the country.
Yousuf Abdullah harun MP, former president of FBCCI chaired the seminar.