Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi has said the government is emphasising on free or preferential trade agreements with neighbouring countries to continue business and exports after Bangladesh's graduation from LDC to a middle-income country.
"We will be a middle-income country by 2024, or by 2026 at the very latest. With the graduation, we will lose Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) and some other benefits, and we have to prepare for this from now," he said on Saturday.
Tipu Munshi said that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has suggested that the government should sign free or preferential trade deals with neighbouring countries.
"We have already started the process. An agreement will soon be signed with Nepal. We are also in discussions with Australia, Canada, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. The agreements will put some pressure on revenue, but they will be helpful in the long run."
The minister made the remarks while inaugurating the main campus of the Bangladesh Institute of Plastic Engineering and Technology (BIPET) in South Keraniganj on the outskirts of the capital.
Commerce Secretary Jafar Uddin was present at the event as a special guest.
BIPET is a hope for the plastics industry
Industry owners hoped that the institute will play a vital role in the development of the plastic sector by providing well-educated skilled manpower, world-class testing facilities, new product ideas, development research, and policy support.
Plastic goods manufacturers and the Bangladesh Plastic Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BPGMEA) collaborated on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis, along with government funding.
Initially, the government had provided Tk10 crore and now the BIPET building, which is under construction, still needs more than Tk25 crore. Industry owners have demanded another Tk10 crore from the government to complete the work.
Assuring owners that support would be provided with the remaining fund, Tipu Munshi said he would speak to the finance minister so that the businessmen can access the money as soon as possible.
The idea of BIPET
The idea of setting up the institute came from India. The Central Institute of Plastic Engineering and Technology (CIPET) was established for the plastics sector in 1968. Since then, the CIPET has been playing a major role in providing technology support, skilled manpower and research and development policies.
Jashim Uddin, chairman of BIPET and vice-chairman of Bengal Group of Industries, who presided over the campus inauguration ceremony, expressed optimism saying, "Like India, our BIPET will contribute to the economic development of the country and will also create skilled manpower for our plastics sector.
"At present, the domestic market size of plastic products is around Tk30,000 crore; the government earns a revenue of Tk3,500 crore from this sector every year."
Jashim Uddin said plastic products are exported to the tune of $1 billion and over 12 lakh people depend on the sector.
"The per-capita plastic consumption is now 7kg, but by 2030, it will increase by five times to 35kg. The plastic business is expanding alongside every other sector. So, we need to create skilled manpower to accelerate the growth of the plastics sector."
Tipu Munshi said, "When the garments business started in 1985, the polythene and cartons to carry the goods had to be imported. Now everything is available in the country.
"There are many opportunities in the plastics sector, but we need to modernise factories and quality assurance to attract foreign buyers." He also spoke about the more convenient cash incentive process."
BIPET Vice-President Shamim Ahmed delivered the welcome remarks and senior vice-president of the BPGMEA Giassuddin Ahmed gave the vote of thanks.