Bangladesh needs to take adequate preparation to face the challenges of losing various facilities, including preferential market access, soft loans, and lesser aid etc, as it is supposed to graduate from the least developed country (LDC) status by 2027.
The country has immense potentials to graduate to a developing one by meeting the three criterions. But to make the graduation sustainable it needs to achieve momentum by addressing a number of issues, speakers said at programme in the capital on Thursday.
The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) organised the dialogue -'Bangladesh and the LDC Graduation Challenges' - with its Chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan in the chair.
Speaking on the occasion State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam, MP, said Bangladesh has already attained the human assets index (HAI) and economic vulnerability index (EVI) threshold levels, and attaining the income threshold is a just a matter of time.
He said everyone is concerned about what will happen to the preferences, mainly the special and differential treatments that Bangladesh enjoys as an LDC, after the graduation.
"What I can say is Bangladesh is ready to face the challenges. We from the government are trying our best to retain all the facilities even after the graduation."
Mr Alam said Bangladesh needs to carryout an in-depth assessment to check how resilient the country's economy is to external shocks.
He opined that the country's infrastructure readiness has to be of high quality to meet various business needs in the days to come.
"Probably Bangladesh's graduation is going to be the most balanced one in the history," the state minister added Chief Coordinator for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Affairs in Prime Minister's Office (PMO) Abul Kalam Azad said Bangladesh will graduate to developing country status by meeting all the three criterions.
He said the government has taken various steps and provided a friendly environment to ensure private sector's growth.
"We've changed red-tape into white-tape. By this we've tried to loosen the tape, although we could not eliminate the tape exactly. We did it by adopting national integrity strategy," he noted.
Former Caretaker Government Advisor Prof Wahiduddin Mahmud said though the graduation (from LDC) will trigger some sacrifices in terms of preferences and also bring some challenges, all need to support the process.
He said as an LDC Bangladesh did not get any extra foreign aid. Rather, it received much lower foreign aid than the developing countries in terms of per capita.
"We have to change our efforts and mindset from trying to exploit the benefits of LDC status to shift to non-LDC mode in international negotiations for benefiting from global economic order."
Mr Mahmud said Bangladesh's strongest position in the threshold is EVI, because of the size of population and economy.
"If you have a large economy, you can diversify it, you have large domestic market and you can withstand external shock."
Mr Mahmud pointed out that Bangladesh is vulnerable because of its huge population and land scarcity, for which it cannot export other than labour-intensive manufacturing goods, like - agriculture products.
Terming apparel sector as an enclave industry he said it is not easy for an economy to depend on one product only.
"We have to strengthen our production base, and should not depend on low-wage sectors. Rather, we should go for better technology and better productivity," he added.
Prof Rehman Sobhan said Bangladesh is getting 10 more years for finally graduating from LDC, and during this period many advantages that the country has been enjoying will be lost. After that the country will enter into bilateral and other mega trade regimes, which are emerging.
"Entering into these bilateral and mega agreements is desirable, if you negotiate well. But the whole nature of these agreements is that it imposes considerable reciprocal obligations as well. This is not a free lunch," he warned.
Vietnam had to pay heavily during entering into TPP deal, Mr Sobhan noted.
He also underscored the need for export diversification instead of depending on a small product basket.
"We have not even built base for moving out from ready-made garment industry to a whole range of labour-intensive industries, late alone higher level industrialisation."
The CPD chairman termed the next ten years, before the graduation, very important for taking necessary preparations as well as raising capability and competitiveness for cutting costs.
He also advocated for giving equity shares to workers in the industries to share their generated profits with them.
First Vice-President of Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin said the cost of doing business is still very high in the country.
Urging the government to meet the infrastructure needs he said energy and power is a major concern for growing private sector investment.
Mr Mohiuddin asked what the price of liquefied natural gas (LNG) will be and when it will be available in large volume.
CPD Distinguished Fellow Mustafizur Rahman in his keynote speech said Bangladesh's LDC graduation will be a success story, not only for the country but for the development partners also.
He said the country is well positioned for graduation, but a number of challenges will commence.
From LDCs' specific preferential treatment it will be entitled for most favoured nation (MFN)-based market participation, and from highly concessional aid it will transit to blended finance, he opined.
"If Bangladesh's graduation is to be sustainable, it has to be with momentum. So, we need adequate preparedness before final graduation," he further added.
CPD Executive Director Fahmida Khatun moderated the dialogue. Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) Chairman Kazi M Aminul Islam, BUILD Chairman Asif Ibrahim, GEMCON Group Director Dr Kazi Anis Ahmed, and BGMEA former director Arshad Jamal also spoke, among others, in the programme.