The fiscal 2021-22 was a prolific year for the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (Bepza), with its eight export processing zones (EPZs) posting the highest-ever growth in investment, export and employment.
The EPZs received investments to the tune of $410 million last fiscal year, which is 20.26% higher than that of the previous year, according to data obtained from Bepza.
During the same period, export earnings from the EPZs grew 30.41% to $8.7 billion while the number of new jobs surged by 36.13% to 64,160.
Bepza Executive Chairman Major General Abul Kalam Mohammad Ziaur Rahman has attributed the marked growth in these crucial indicators even amid the hard times of the Covid pandemic mainly to the country's investment-friendly atmosphere and the prevalence of labour- and environment-friendly working conditions at the EPZs.
The government's far-sighted investment-friendly policies and several incentives to businessmen are attracting not only domestic investors but also foreign investors. "Due to this, the overall investment in Bangladesh has increased," he told The Business Standard.
The Bepza executive chairman explained the factors for positive growth in all areas of EPZs.
He said over the four decades since their journey started in the country in 1980, the EPZs have built up a highly skilled team with expertise and dedication. "Investors want to see how government policies are being implemented. Bepza officials are very sincere about this matter. Investors find Bepza ideal in terms of ease of doing business, which is why many of them are attracted to invest.
"We are ensuring a constant vigil to make sure the rights of the workers are properly implemented. Industrial units at the EPZs are conducting operations in compliance with our Compliance Policy. Foreign buyers are attracted to buy products from here because of the presence of green factories," the Bepza executive chief said.
As of June this year, 456 industrial entities, including 149 from the apparel sector, are operational at the eight EPZs in the country – Chattogram EPZ, Dhaka EPZ, Mongla EPZ, Ishwardi EPZ, Cumilla EPZ, Uttara EPZ, Adamjee EPZ, and Karnaphuli EPZ.
Many renowned global brands – including Nike, Reebok, Lafuma, H&M (Sweden), Gap, Brouks, JCPenney, Walmart, Kmart, Ospig (Germany), Mother Care (UK), Lee, Wrangler, Dockers, Nba, Tommy Hilfiger, Adidas, Falcon(USA), Edie Bauyer, Eagle, Releigh (UK), Emmilee, Free Spiril (UK), Miles (Germany), American Eagle, Hi-Tech (UK), Phillip-Maurice (UK), Wins More, Decathlon – buy products from the Bangladeshi EPZs.
Md Mohiuddin Rubel, director of Denim Expert Ltd, and director of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told The Business Standard that EPZs offer more facilities for industries, including uninterrupted supplies of utility services, which facilitate faster production.
"Besides, Bepza is an autonomous organisation under the Prime Minister's Office. Various matters here are directly overseen by the prime minister. Any problem is solved quickly. As a result, foreigners are attracted to invest here. And since the working environment is good, buyers also are more interested in buying the products produced here," he said.
The $409.8 million investment that Bepza attracted in FY22 is the highest in a single year in the history of the government agency. The previous highest was $406.35 million in FY15.
Of the total investment earned last year, Chattogram EPZ received the highest $88.86 million, followed by Dhaka EPZ at $71.07 million, Adamjee EPZ $70.62 million, Cumilla EPZ $67.46 million, Karnaphuli EPZ $45.15 million, Ishwardi EPZ $42.78 million, Mongla EPZ $18.68 million, and Uttara EPZ $5.18 million.
Investors from 37 countries, including South Korea, China (Taiwan and Hong Kong), Japan, India, the UK, and the USA along with those from Bangladesh have invested $6,040.43 million in the eight EPZs under Bepza as of June 2022.
Export income from the operational enterprises in the country's eight EPZs hit the $8 billion mark for the first time in FY22. The previous highest export earnings from the EPZs in a single fiscal year was $7524.11 million in FY19.
Although the pandemic caused serious disruptions to trade and businesses by inducing huge work order cancellations in the previous two financial years, Bepza made a turnaround from this stagnant economic condition in FY22 and achieved a new milestone in export earnings.
Of the total export receipts by the EPZs in FY22, the highest $2.59 billion was earned by Chattogram EPZ, followed by Dhaka EPZ $2.1 billion, Karnaphuli EPZ $1.4 billion, Adamjee EPZ $935.76 million, Cumilla EPZ $814.82 million, Uttara EPZ $376.66 million, Ishwardi EPZ $209.06 million, & Mongla EPZ $158.24 million.
Total exports from the EPZs reached $96 billion as of June 2022.
Apparel shipments accounted for 54.68% of the total exports from EPZs, although the sector contributes to 85% of the country's total exports.
Other sectors such as garment accessories, footwear and leather goods, textile, tent, caps, plastic goods, and electronics captured a fair share in the export earnings from the EPZs, which proves that EPZs have turned into hubs for producing products of diverse natures.
BEPZA Executive Chairman Abul Kalam Mohammad Ziaur Rahman said the total land area of the eight EPZs is 2,300 acres, while the EPZs accounted for 16.65% of the country's total export income in FY22.
Of the total 64,160 new jobs created from Bangladeshi nationals in EPZs last year, 19,111 were in Chattogram EPZ, followed by Dhaka EPZ 10,451, Adamjee EPZ 9,924, Cumilla EPZ 9,792, Karnaphuli EPZ 7,319, Ishwardi EPZ 3,002, Uttara EPZ 2,599, and Mongla EPZ 1,962.
As of June 2022, the cumulative employment opportunities created at the EPZs stand at 5,02,365.
More investment in pipeline
In FY22, 14 business organisations placed proposals to invest $173.34 million in the country's eight EPZs, which is expected to create employment opportunities for 18,970.
Besides, 10 business entities received the authorities' nod to set up industries at the under-construction Bepza Economic Zone in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib industrial city in Chattogram. The firms have put forward investment proposals to the tune of $215.66 million, which is expected to create 45,876 jobs.
Three new EPZs coming
BEPZA is developing another three EPZs at Patuakhali, Jashore, and Gaibandha.
The Bepza executive chairman said they are focusing on attracting business organisations that will manufacture technological products as well as other diversified goods in the new EPZs. They are making efforts so that backward linkage industries are set up there, he added.
"We provide one-stop service to investors. We are working in coordination with the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida), the Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority, the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority, the Public Private Partnership (PPP) Authority to speed up investment," he concluded.