The jargon "new normal" is now used by the media, apparently in a bid to remove the uncertainties regarding shifts caused by the pandemic. As there is no lasting cure in sight in the immediate future, people are applying this phrase while imagining they are settling down again by attuning to a new lifestyle called the "new normal". It implies "things will never be the same as before" – therefore, welcome to this "new world order". Through this, a novel lifestyle is being imagined about the previous state, thereby setting a standard for the present and future until the pandemic subsides or vanishes through gradual weakening.
Chittagong Port Authority Chairman Rear Admiral SM Abul Kalam Azad told the media, "For this, we had to work 24 hours a day. Containers and ship congestion occured but they have been handled efficiently. With the participation of importers and exporters, everything is moving towards normalcy. With the return of import-export activities, the pace of the country's economy will gradually return to normal."
In a letter to the Ministry of Shipping from Chittagong Port, some steps have been mentioned. These include increasing cargo and container handling productivity to reduce the ship turnaround time, reducing container dual time by ensuring faster container delivery, speeding up the construction work of container yards under construction, and increasing back-up facilities; steps taken to overcome the loss of corona within a year.
Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) President Mahbubul Alam has submitted a nine-point demand to the State Minister for Shipping.
Around 80 percent of the country's revenue is collected through the Customs House in Chittagong. Chittagong Chamber sources said that Chittagong Customs House provided good service during the pandemic period. However, exporters have demanded to partial shipment input to Esquiz ++.
Large industries - steel, cement, infrastructure, recycling
The country's first CEPZ was established in Chittagong in the 80's. There is Karnaphuli and Korean EPZ. Besides, BIDA sources said that at present, there are 1,199 domestic industries and 35 joint ventures; there are a huge number of foreigners.
We have industries in the infrastructure sector such as BSRM, GPH Steel, KSRM, AKS, Golden Steel, Bayezid, Seema, Shitalpur, RSM, and Saleh Steel. There are about six more manual companies, though they are limping.
Besides, GPH Steel authorities have announced that Austria Primatals has started a hot trial to produce the cleanest and purest steel with the world's second-best technology and Asia's first quantum electric arc furnace technology. It was learned that if the new plant is commissioned at full capacity, the production capacity of SM billets of GPH steel will increase by about 6 times.
Hakim Ali, leader of the Cement Manufacturers Association, said that Chittagong currently has cement factories of Aramit, S Alam, Shah Cement, Diamond, Confidence, Royal, Premier Ruby, Mostafa Hakim. Over the last five months, they have suffered substantial financial losses due to the delivery transport and masonry crisis. However, since the last two months, they are slowly returning to normal.
According to the Ship Recycling Association of Chittagong, which is famous for iron ore in Bangladesh, they have 161 companies, including sister concerns. According to them, ships bought at higher prices before Covid-19 are now being sold at lower prices to adjust bank loans. But they hope that 40-45 new ships will arrive shortly.
MA Salam, first vice president of BGMEA, said that more than 300 factories have been set up, including EPZ. The government encouraged them from the beginning. According to media reports, the production of tea leaves in Chittagong is promising. We must add new items to the export basket.
In Chittagong, we have to make maximum use of dairy poultry farms, Chandanaish lemon, guava (cultivated in 1250 hills), cottage industries or dye industries, Chittagong Hill Tracts minerals and agro-based sectors in greater Chittagong. Its procurement and supply chain needs to be smooth. Producers have to make arrangements so that they get a good price.
Union-based godowns need to be arranged. Mango usually comes to Chittagong from Rajshahi. Fortunately, the Pedrolo Group, Meridian Group, and the Clifton Group are now producing a variety of fruits, including mangoes, grapes, and malt. The agro-based sector needs to be strengthened with various incentives.
In addition to tourism in Cox's Bazar, there should be more focus on fish, dried fish market, and its conservation process. They need to be motivated so that they can maintain smooth cash flow. Cox's Bazar-Teknaf area must be given economic security as it is much-talked spot for Rohingya refugees' route, Major Sinha's assassination, and human trafficking.
Dear reader, as soon as you open Facebook, you will see that women are giving illustrated demonstrations of their India, Pakistan, and Bangladeshi dresses. Apart from Eid-ul-Fitr, they also sell clothes, shoes, and jewellery throughout the year.
Moreover, young entrepreneurs from Chittagong are supplying mango, hilsa, honey, consumer and grocery items, and even live crabs and cooked crabs (referred to as "crab express") in Chittagong. Many are offering homemade fast food items through various online platforms.
It is to be hoped that at least 200 small entrepreneurs from Chittagong will be involved in this initiative. Recently, however, questions have been raised about the integrity of branded organisations like Evaly. There are also cases of committing fraud with customers by supplying unworthy products. In this case, it is time to bring online business under government registration and increase surveillance.
Most of the pharmaceutical companies are located in Dhaka. In Chittagong, there was United, Desh, Albion, and Therapeutics but some of them are not operating now. The government should take initiative to set up more pharmaceutical companies here. At the same time, I am demanding the establishment of surgical outlets like Taj Scientific at a higher rate.
The prices of various items which are based on the country's business hub, Khatungonj such as garlic, ginger, rice, flour, and onions went up due to lower imports. It is coming down again. Trade bodies have a special role to play in this.
However, we will say again that Chittagong was once very famous for its native rabi grains such as spices. In the agro-based sector, there should be sufficient land in greater Chittagong for greater production of spices and there is a need to encourage farmers.
Haji Sahabuddin, leader of Bangladesh Shop Owners Association Chittagong and Decorators Owners Association, said they had a 225 shop owners' associations. They are claiming a loss of Tk 1,000 crore during the pandemic period. On the other hand, there are 150 community centres in Chittagong.
They claim a loss of Tk 2,500 crore. There are 150 decoration owners, they have borne a loss of Tk 150 crore. Teribazar Owners Association Leader M A Mannan said that they want an incentive of Tk 2,000 crore at a rate of 8 percent.
In the 80's, one of my political trainers said that 8 percent of the people in Bangladesh do not have a permanent job. Sometimes they cut paddy, sometimes they cultivate vegetables, catch fish, work as day labourers, carriers, etc. They spend the rest of their time drinking tea and smoking cigarettes. As a result, unemployment has been fabricated. Due to the stranded expatriates amid Covid-19 pandemic, the number of unemployed people increased. Hawkers, vendors, blacksmiths, potters, housemaids, masons, rickshaw pullers, drivers, private security officers, and street people, all were greatly affected due to the pandemic. So, the government needs to ensure food for all of them. During the distribution of aid and relief, there must be transparency.
According to the ILO database, the number of working people in Bangladesh is currently six crores 25 lakh. Moreover, the unemployment rate in our economy is 4.29 percent (2019). Every year, around 20-22 lakh educated unemployed individuals are being added to this list.
About one crore people work outside the country. Hundreds of them have returned to the country, many are waiting to return after losing their jobs. They do not seem to be able to return to those countries any time soon. About 50 percent of the above figures are from the Middle East or America. The corona-caused epidemic has left a large portion of the total working people in the informal sector jobless.
Yet we are hopeful that the brave and hardworking people of Bangladesh will be able to deal with it. And we would like to appeal to Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangabandhu, in the centenary of Mujib, for a new normal economy and not a political economy (Karl Marx and Adam Smith).
I am closing with a conclusion on what to do in the priority sector of the total economy in Bangladesh; safeguarding manufacturing sectors, ease of commodity trading, strong digital footprint in export promotion, tapping the potential rise in global demand for health care workers via trained manpower export, attracting FDI to develop backward linkage industry, and protecting SMEs and households solvency can drive the economic growth back on course - (Bangladesh Center of Excellence (BCE) - An initiative of CCCI).
Ovik Osman is a media advisor.