To be an upper middle income country by 2031, Bangladesh needs to double the per capita income of its people from $2,000 now, which will require the economy to grow by more than 8% every year, say the country's top economists.
While a lot depends on how fast the global economy recovers from the coronavirus devastation, they add, extensive preparations are needed at home fronts for export diversification and expansion, bigger investment and higher productivity – which calls for more advanced technologies, innovations and skills development.
Achieving the thresholds for an upper middle-income country is not impossible, they believe, if hurdles to businesses are removed and additional investments are made in human capital – education and public health.
As The Business Standard enters its second year of publication, we have approached an array of economists, businesspeople and experts to know what the economy needs now for achieving Goal 2031 set by Bangladesh.
This is what they said to our reporters Abul Kashem, Jahidul Islam, Mir Jasim, Tawsia Tajmin, Mehedi Al Amin and Sukanta Halder.
If the reform measures being implemented now keep going, it will accelerate the engine of economic growth, expediting the recovery from the damage caused by the pandemic and setting Bangladesh on strong foot to march towards Goal 2031.
The binding constraints on investment are well known – lack of land, availability of utilities, inefficient trade logistics, regulatory complexities, skills shortage, erosion of preferences in international market access and so on, says economist Zahid Hussain.
Economic zones need to be readied for investors, who also want to see unfriendly regulations go before they plan expansion in their businesses.
Huge amount of investment from both domestic and abroad will require to double the real income by the next 11 years to put the country at the upper middle income level, says Dr Khan Ahmed Sayeed Murshid, director general of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies.
Higher growth will come with a wider inequality if enough jobs are not created.
Decentralisation of industrialisation and more focus on industries having domestic demand could help reduce inequality, Dr Murshid feels.
Economist Dr Monzur Hossain thinks small and medium enterprises, if supported adequately, could take the economy forward. "This sector has generated the highest employment. It will not be possible to take the country to the level of higher middle income without giving proper attention to the SME sector," he says.
Climate change and its fallout remain a key worry. While striving for higher economic growth, we must not keep our eyes shut to pollution of rivers, depletion of forests.
Environmentalist Dr Saleemul Huq believes Bangladesh's climate related laws are good and if those are implemented, the country can have a much better environment condition in 2031 than now.
We have a huge population with working age, but there is a lack of skills both for domestic and overseas job markets. Educationists call for higher spending in quality education for improvement of skills suiting the future job needs.
Business leader Anwar-ul Alam Chowdhury Parvez strongly believes that Bangladesh will graduate to the next phase of growth in the next 10 years if the planned mega infrastructure projects and 100 economic zones are completed, education is tuned to the skill needs of industries.
"But graduation to a higher income economy would not be possible if we rely solely on apparel and textile sectors. We must improve our light engineering sector," he says.
Economic growth will not be meaningful if people do not get services, their health and rights not protected. If we can ensure that people will get treatments for cancer, diabetes and heart ailments free of cost in the next 10 years, we will get world class healthcare, says Professor Be-Nazir Ahmed, a public health expert.
People's access to services and utilities is one of the indicators of how good or bad governance we have. If citizens' economic and social rights are protected by effectively reducing corruption, Bangladesh's ranking in governance index will definitely turn positive in the next 10 years, former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder hopes.