A panel of business leaders and experts on Saturday suggested removing regulatory, fiscal and legal barriers to investment so that both local and foreign investors can invest and do business smoothly in the country.
They listed a number of sectors such as health, education, agro-processing, light engineering, non-cotton apparel, home textile, and the blue economy, for increasing inflow of foreign direct investment into Bangladesh in the coming days.
At a virtual seminar organised by Economic Reporters’ Forum (ERF), the stakeholders recommended expanding Bangladesh’s exports and strong diplomatic engagement with countries like Japan, China, Canada, India and European Union for enhancing trade and investment cooperation.
“Nothing will happen without tax reforms and export expansion,” Syed Nasim Manzur, Managing Director of Apex Footwear Limited, told the webinar "FDI for Export Diversification and Smooth LDC Graduation". It was organised as part of the ERF Webinar Series in partnership with the Asia Foundation and Research and Policy Integration for Development (RAPID).
Saying that Bangladesh should have been a country of US$100 billion exports by this time, the keynote presenter, Dr MA Razzaque, pointed out that foreign direct investment can help increase exports with higher returns given the market connectivity and bargaining capacity of the investors.
Both Mr Razzaque and Mr Nasim emphasised that regulatory atmosphere should be improved for increasing FDI and exports in the post-pandemic world and when Bangladesh would lose its privileges as a least developed country in five years due to graduation.
President of Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) Nihad Kabir regretted that the same issues that hindered business growth are being discussed for generations. “We need to take some courageous decisions like scrapping many useless backdated laws,” she said and also underlined the need for changing attitude towards domestic businessmen for attracting FDI.
President of Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) Rizwan Rahman underscored the need for tax reforms, saying that the high tax rate would not help foreign investors to be convinced about making investment decisions in Bangladesh.
Agreeing with him, Executive Chairman of Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) Md Sirazul Islam said the investment promotion agency needs certain authority to serve the investors independently.
He, however, mentioned that the BIDA is trying to create an enabling atmosphere for attracting more FDI by offering services like one-stop service (OSS) to ensure hassle-free service delivery.
Mentioning that 47 services have so far been brought under online and OSS covers 16 organisations, the official urged the businessmen to come to take service and tell others to seek services from the BIDA.
Planning Minister MA Mannan, speaking as chief guest, stressed the need for changing the cultural context of the country in order to become more successful in attracting FDI and creating other business opportunities.
He also felt that Bangladesh was often sidelined in terms of perception in the international arena and said there should be a big push by the new generation to bring changes.
Listing various steps taken by the BIDA to further ease doing business, he informed the webinar that separate courts would be lunched in Dhaka and Chattogram to speedily resolve commercial disputes. "We'll definitely try our best to face the challenges emerging before us," he said.
The BIDA Executive Chairman acknowledged that if the local investment could be promoted further, there would be more FDI inflow.
DCCI President Rizwan Rahman recommended that budgetary provision for whitening undisclosed money should be provided to, for example, health and infrastructure sectors to see genuine investment.
Mr. Rizwan also said there is much more scope for attracting FDI in the blue economy as Bangladesh is blessed with sea outlet.
He also suggested that foreign investment should be allowed in education sector and that there should be focus on sectors other than readymade garments after decades to increase the country’s exports.
Citing an example that the Bangladeshi exporters earn $1,089 by exporting 1000KGs of tea shirts, whereas the Vietnamese exporters earn $2,157 by exporting the same volume, Syed Nasim Manzur said 'bargaining power' makes the difference.
The business leader also suggested that Bangladesh should see duty-free and quota-free market access in Japan, EU, Canada, India and China.
Dr Razzaque said FDI can create modern job opportunities and bring in new technology and management practices for Bangladesh. He suggested that immediate regulatory measures should be taken to attract FDI in a more competitive world in the post-pandemic era.
He regretted that Bangladesh FDI stock is US$18 billion compared to $161 billion FDI stock of Vietnam.
Executive Director of RAPID and Dhaka University Professor of Development Studies Dr M Abu Yusuf and Country Representative of the Asia Foundation Kazi Faisal Bin Seraj gave welcome address at the webinar which was chaired by ERF Vice President M Shafiqul Alam and moderated by its General Secretary SM Rashidul Islam.