By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
For a country that just three decades ago was a nation on the brink of mass starvation, the Republic of Bangladesh has made tremendous strides in recent years, both socially and economically.
Although it is still plagued by overpopulation, political instability, the scourge of Islamic terrorism and a reputation for unsafe working conditions for its laborers (not to mention the added financial burden of supporting 700,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar for the last year), the little South Asian nation that was founded as the rejected step-sibling of Pakistan back in 1971 finally graduated last month from the United Nations’ Least Developed Countries (LDCs) roster to Developing Country status.
And while Bangladesh has a long history of droughts and other natural disasters, the world’s eighth-most-populous country – which once inspired former Beatle George Harrison to produce a fundraising concert and album to help feed its starving children – is now completely self-sufficient in terms of food production, having tripled its rice harvests over the last few decades to nearly 35 million tons a year, making it the fourth-largest producer of the grain worldwide.
Moreover, Bangladesh has managed to register at least 6 percent per annum GDP growth for the last 10 years, and in 2017, it cranked out 7.28 percent growth.
Predictions for this year are that it will reach at least 7.5 percent growth.
Additionally, the South Asian country has reduced its poverty rate from 41 percent to 21 percent in the scope of just 10 years, and both access to and the quality of public education and health services have significantly improved and an avid micro-industry loan program has helped women and small businesses to flourish.
As dressmaker to the world (Bangladesh produces $25 billion in apparel each year, making it the second-largest exporter, right after China) with a rapidly diversifying portfolio of products, the Land of Bengal now boasts one of the most dynamic and promising economies in the region.
But to keep the country’s economic engine in full overdrive, Dhaka desperately needs to continue to bring in new investors and trade partners, and that is precisely what Bangladeshi Ambassador to Mexico Supradip Chakma has been working on ever since he arrived here three and a half years ago.
Getting Mexican businessmen – who are traditionally northcentric in their commercial worldview – to take note of a nation with a historic bad political and economic rap is no easy endeavor.
Despite the fact that Bangladesh and Mexico have maintained formal diplomatic relations in 1975, two-way trade is practically null, just $275 million a year, and there is essentially no joint-venture investment on either side.
But during a breakfast meeting with Mexican impresarios at the Club de Banqueros in Mexico City’s Centro Histórico on Wednesday, March 18, Chakma pointed out that Bangladesh has plenty to offer in the way of investment opportunities, including a vast and affordable workforce, tax holidays and full repatriation of investment capital.
“Yes, we still have some problems and challenges,” Chakma admitted.
“But we have a nine-year plan that is helping Bangladesh to overcome a lot of these obstacles and we hope to be registering double-digit growth by the year 2021.”
That goal might seem a bit optimistic given the potential impact the new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), or Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), as it is now known, to which Bangladesh does not belong.
But given Bangladesh’s history and its people’s sheer determination in the face of adversity, it is not an unachievable objective.
After all, in the scope of just three decades, Bangladesh has gone for an economic basket case to a regional bread basket, and that says a lot.
Thérèse Margolis can be contacted at email@example.com