Bangladesh may lose its main export markets if the vaccination programme fails to catch up with that in the developed countries, economists and business leaders fear.
They have called for increasing the allocation for the health sector in the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2021-22.
Addressing a post-budget webinar on Sunday, Md Jashim Uddin, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), said the budget has come at a time when Bangladesh is facing the challenge of overcoming the coronavirus crisis.
He said vaccination should be given the utmost importance to address this challenge in addition to providing stimulus.
Buyers will not come here until the vaccination drive is over and air travels between Bangladesh and their countries will not become normal if people are not immunised, he said.
"This means we may lose our export markets," he said.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) President Faruque Hassan also emphasised finishing the immunisation programme. He said Bangladesh lags far behind others in vaccination, which will cause the country to fall behind in exports as well.
Chairman of the Research and Policy Integration for Development (RAPID) Dr Mohammad Abdur Razzaque said the Tk10,000 crore vaccination allocation in the proposed budget is inadequate. He suggested using Tk7,500 crore from bulk allocations to address the crisis.
"We may be banned from entering different countries if we do not get vaccinated. People need to be vaccinated as soon as possible."
Planning Minister MA Mannan, who was the chief guest at the event, said buyers will not come here if herd immunity is not achieved.
"What will we do then? This is a very crucial matter and I hope the government will treat it accordingly," he said.
"Many have termed the budget business-friendly. We are a business-friendly government. We understand that business must be a priority. Our doors are open for the business community."
Dr M Abu Eusuf, who presented the keynote, said the budget was announced ahead of several challenges, including the pandemic, graduation from the least developed country (LDC) status,
achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Eighth Five Year Plan.
He said the budget should have been formulated by keeping these goals in line with growth. The budgetary allocation for the health sector is about 1% while the Eighth Five Year Plan says it should be 2%, resulting in inconsistencies, he noted.
He said hospitals like the government ones, including Combined Military Hospital, in Dhaka should be set up in districts and additional allocations are needed in the budget. It is important to consider whether the 7.2% growth target, like in normal times, is sending the wrong message to the international community, he added.
Dr Razzaque said the biggest focus in the budget should have been on health and social security, but that was not the case. He said allocations remained the same as last year. "Now the main challenge is vaccination. It is urgent."
The FBCCI president said the budget should have been formulated considering the post-LDC graduation period. He said private sector investment remained low for several years and losing patent benefits would bring many challenges.
Speaking about taxation, he said the business community had urged the authorities to cancel advance income tax as this causes capital to get stuck. "The government imposed 20% advance income tax on some products. Many products also have advance VAT. We need exemptions from these."
As for individual investment, the BGMEA president said such investment was negligible in the fiscal year 2019-20, adding the situation was the same during Covid-19.
He demanded duty-free facilities for non-cotton fibre imports in the clothing sector to meet the post-LDC graduation challenges.
Economic Reporters' Forum (ERF), the Asia Foundation, and RAPID organised the programme. ERF President Sharmeen Rinvy presided over the event while its Secretary SM Rashidul Islam was the moderator.