Trade and industries: From ancient time to Pakistan era
M S Siddiqui in the first of his two-part article
Bangladesh has a long history of trading of spices and manufacturing of Muslin fabrics during 17th century and made international footprints by exporting goods to all over the world. According to Chinese and Greek travellers, the adjacent areas of Dhaka started flourishing as trade centres mainly from the 11th century during the end of the Pal Dynasty and initial period of the Sen Dynasty. Along with trade relations with China, Greece and Italy, however, Dhaka emerged as a thriving commercial and industrial centre after the Mughal rulers shifted the capital of Bengal from Rajmahal to Dhaka.
The ancient economic life of this land was dependent on agriculture and craftsmanship, evidence of which is found in the recent excavation at Wari-Bateswar.
Mughals brought a huge number of artisans and royal court staff who introduced a new economic way of life with multiple professions. The political change brought significant transformation in the local economy.
At that time a great number of shroffs, bankers, podders and mahajans (wealthy money lenders) had been created who played a vital role in the economic and social life of Bengal as well as the entire Mughal Empire. Handcrafted textiles, milk products, jewellery, pottery, paper making and boat building were the principal trade items. Hence, the commercial excellence and economic prosperity presented lucrative opportunities for traders from Armenia, France, Portugal, Greece and the United Kingdom. The influx of foreign traders influenced gradual economic growth and socio-economic aspects of the city considerably, as they had set up their kuthir (bungalows), agency houses and factories mostly in Bengal.The invasion of powerful British transition from Mughal to the East India Company rule in Bengal led to many institutional changes, especially to manufacturing and economic systems.
In the early 18th century, the indigenous industries declined due to the unfavourable British policy towards the textiles industry in the subcontinent. Their business policy was to take some products mostly raw materials to support industries in Britain and also a market of industrial products of their country.
As there was no government patronisation and the technology of crafts remaining more or less unchanged and the demand declined in the face of competition from textile industries after industrial revolution in Europe, the muslin weavers were converted into farmers, goldsmiths or got involved with trading activities.
In the eighteenth century, a new trading and manufacturing class developed in this region. Apart from foreign mercantile companies, the local factory weavers, banias (traders), gomostas (peons), brokers, pikers (whole-sellers), mohajans, podders, craftsmen, washer men, palanquin-bearers, painters, weavers, craftsmen, gold and silver smiths and shopkeepers stepped into business. At that time, there was a revival of the jute markets to support jute industries in UK. The evolution of these classes indicates at the existence of a high consumer class as well as a working class in this region.
The East India Company developed a shipbuilding industry in Kolkata for creation of facilities for repair and furnishing of merchant vessels and warships. Other major industries of Bengal that underwent development during the British period were the jute, salt and sugar industries. These ventures were at the best interest of their own business.
The areas of South Asia out of which Pakistan was formed were overwhelmingly non-industrial. They were composed primarily of the raw material producing agriculture. It had previously supplied raw jute to the jute mills located around Kolkata. West Punjab was the most important component of West Pakistan. After 1947 East Pakistan inherited a very small share of the industries of Bengal. East Pakistan got none of the 108 jute mills, 18 iron and steel mills and 16 paper mills of Bengal. Only 90 of Bengal's 389 cotton mills, 10 of its 166 sugar mills, and 3 of its 19 cement factories fell in the territory of East Pakistan. The industrial development policy of the government of Pakistan encouraged the manufacture of arms and ammunition, hydroelectric power; and telephone, telegraph and wireless reserved for the state and encouraged the private sectors to come up with industrial ventures in all other sectors. Twenty-four industries including jute, textiles, silk and rayon were subjected to central planning. The government created the Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) and Pakistan Industrial Finance Corporation to promote industrialisation. PIDC made significant contributions to the establishment of industrial units in sectors such as jute, paperboard, cement, fertilizer, sugar, chemicals, textile, pharmaceuticals, light engineering and shipbuilding.
Pakistan's early industrial development in the fifties was based on import substituting industrialisation under tariff barriers and an overvalued exchange rate. After the first easy phase of import substituting industrialisation, industrial strategies evolved into a more coherent industrial policy in the sixties. Pakistan managed to kick-start industrialisation in this period given its unpropitious initial endowment. The acceleration of industrial growth rate in Pakistan was significant in the early sixties when it adopted industrial policy. However, the benefits of that policy went largely to the people of the then West Pakistan and Bangalees were not prepared to take the advantage. Moreover Bangalees were deprived of facilities through different forms of disrimination.
The early stage witnessed a policy of state control and state sponsored economic activities and there were ideological changes in Bangladesh and global scenario. The industries marked by notable development in Bangladesh in the mid-1980s include shipbuilding, automobiles assembly, oil refinery, insulators and sanitary wares, telephone equipment, electrical goods, televisions (assembly), cigarette, and vegetable oil. The country achieved a significant success in developing garment industry in last three decades.