By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Bangladesh – once the literal posterchild for a nation on the verge of financial and social collapse – has come a long ways in its brief 48 years, at least in economic terms.
For more than a decade, the South Asian country with a massive population of 168 million (making it one of the most populated nations on Earth) has somehow managed to register a 6-plus percent GDP growth per annum and an even more impressive average 3 percent annual growth in per capita income.
Spurred on by a free-market economy, a boom-or-bust manufacturing sector (which has now positioned it as the second-largest garment exporter in the world), and a no-nonsense program to educate and empower women through gender-equality programs and collateral-free small business loans, Bangladesh has overcome the obstacles of war, natural disasters, mass starvation and its own turbulent political scene to prove itself to be the economic whiz kid of South Asia.
Even having to deal with the influx of nearly a million Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar in 2017 (who are still waiting to be resettled in their homeland) hasn’t slowed Bangladesh’s great march forward toward economic prosperity.
Last year, the Land of the Bengals managed to pull off a 7.86 percent GDP growth, and the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has predicted that in 2019, the country will register 7.9 percent growth rate, making it the second-best performing economy in the world.
According to the World Bank, Bangladesh, which in 1974 faced a widespread famine that cost the lives of more than 1.5 million men, women and children, is now on the verge of self-sufficiency in food production (and is already fully self-sufficient in the production of rice, the national staple), and the number of Bangladeshis living in extreme poverty has dropped from 19 percent in 2009 to less than 9 percent today.
So with all these accomplishments, Bangladeshi Ambassador to Mexico Supradip Chakma was well within his bragging rights when he proudly touted his country’s economic success during a lavish, sit-down luncheon to mark Bangladesh’s national day at Mexico City’s Club de Banqueros on Tuesday, March 26.
“By the year 2025, Bangladesh will be poverty-free,” he told his guests.
“And by the year 2041, we have a vision of a dignified nation that will be among the 20 top economies worldwide.”
Chakma also talked about Bangladesh’s ambitious scheme to develop a network of 100 special economic zones across the country, thus providing employment nationwide and avoiding overpopulation in urban areas.
“For the most part, we are financing these eco zones ourselves, rather than getting entangled in a web of international loans,” he said, hinting at part of the reason for Bangladesh’s uncanny success.
When it came to talking about Bangladesh’s ties with Mexico, however, Chakma did not have much to say, defining the bilateral relationship as “warm and friendly.”
Sadly, combined two-way trade is very low, just $300 million a year (although that figure is twice the amount that it was in 2014, when Chakma first arrived here as ambassador).
Chakma said that he was hoping to promote more trade by working closely with both the Bangladeshi and Mexican business communities.
Bangladesh declared its independence from Pakistan on March 26, 1971.