China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) could help Bangladesh achieve its long-term development goals in the current shift of global political economy, experts at an international conference said on Sunday.
They said both political and economic world orders have been changing quickly without any war and protectionism seems to be on the rise in countries.
In the circumstances, they said, countries like Bangladesh should take BRI as a key option to ensuring its foothold on the path of sustainable development through improving both physical and non-physical infrastructure.
To reap the benefits of the Chinese flagship investment project, economists, bureaucrats, academicians and businesses have stepped up discussions between the two countries for responding to emerging challenges.
They also warned that a lack of open, transparent and competitive procurement process could lead to poor performances on projects in terms of missing timeline, cost overruns and low-quality services.
The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a key national think tank, hosted the daylong conference on "Belt and Road Initiative, Positioning Bangladesh within Comparative Perspectives' in the capital.
The leading businessman and member of the CPD board of trustees Syed Manzur Elahi moderated the inaugural session of the event.
Industries minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun was present as the chief guest.
CPD chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan said BRI is a new evolution in the global economic order with relocation of competitive powers into the countries in the South, South Asia in particular.
He said China has huge foreign exchange reserves and sovereign wealth funds and it is deploying its resources in a much organised way to bring about the restructuring of the global economic order.
"This is a very extraordinary development," the eminent economist added.
Mr Rehman said Bangladesh should take the BRI agenda and continue dialogues with China opening up a much broader conversation to address major elements of the initiative.
"BRI infrastructure will lay the groundwork for industrial restructuring, targeting market opportunities being offered by China," he stated.
Mr Rehman also suggested long-term equity for the people who would be displaced for infrastructure projects under BRI alongside stressing the importance of think-tank collaboration on areas of research.
At the event, the industries minister said the bilateral relationship has reached a new height in recent years following recent visits of both heads of the countries.
"No nation can progress in an isolated way. BRI is a platform of international cooperation for mutual benefits," he said while sharing the experience of his recent trip to Beijing to participate in the Second BRI Forum.
Presenting a keynote paper, CPD executive director Dr Fahmida Khatun said infrastructure investment by 2040 for energy and transport sectors will be around 1.5 and 1.0 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) respectively.
She said the largest proportion of BRI projects in Bangladesh is in the energy and transport sectors. "So, BRI effectively and efficiently fills the infrastructure gap here," she said.
About the debt sustainability issue, Ms Khatun said despite the recent trend in increased external debt, Bangladesh's good debt servicing record has ensured that it has not piled up.
"The total debt service as a percentage of the total exports decreased from 8.6 per cent in 2013 to 3.9 per cent in 2018," she added.
Mahbub Uz Zaman, the newly appointed Bangladesh ambassador in Beijing, said BRI is matched with the country's foreign policies and national priorities.
He said Bangladesh needs strong economic fundamentals to achieve its 2021, 2030 and 2041 development goals and BRI can help the nation in this regard.
Senior foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque said the overall politico-economic order keeps shifting in line with the ongoing global transformation.
BRI is wedded to the global structures like Indo-Pacific Strategy and Eurasia component, he added.
"We should be a party to all the initiatives as long as they serve our national interests. It's not only about trade, business and technology transfer. It's also about geopolitics. When power shifts, it creates all kinds of wins."
Moderating the event, Mr Manzur Elahi called for the government to consider stakeholders' opinions in any policymaking.
"BRI is good but it has to be BRI-plus Europe because we also need developed countries for our markets," said the captain of industry.
"Bangladesh doesn't want to be a market, rather we want markets. Protectionism doesn't work. You need import and export," he went on to say.
Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) director general Dr Sachin Chaturvedi and Prof Cheng Min of the Institute for Bangladesh Studies at Yunnan Academy of Social Science, Kunming, also spoke at the programme.