A new study has identified Sherpur in Maulvibazar and Mirershorai and Anwara in Chittagong as potential locations for economic zones to be built at an estimated cost of $1.17 billion by investors.
The study, commissioned by Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority, advised the government to roll out the Sherpur Economic Zone first as required infrastructure—power, water and gas—is in place.
“So, it has the potential to attract investors,” Shoichi Kobayashi, team leader of the economic zones project, said at the unveiling of the final draft of the study.
Japan Development Institute, Maxwell Stamp and Sheltech Private Ltd jointly conducted the study with financing from the World Bank and the British government's DFID.
The country particularly needs the economic zones for the unemployed and the underemployed and people from the rural areas who are still living in poverty, Kobayashi said.
“Many Asian countries have come out of poverty by developing economic zones. Bangladesh can solve most problems such as poverty and unemployment by doing the same, the way countries such as Thailand and Indonesia did in the last 25 years.”
The economic zones must be set up as “top priority”, as 93 percent of the plots under the existing eight export processing zones have already been sold out, he said. The government will launch international tenders to pick “developers and operators” who will invest in the economic zones.
"All investments will come from the developers and operators. The government may make some investment when private land has to be acquired, but we will recoup the cost from the investors later," Md Nurannabi Mridha, the project director, told The Daily Star.
The zones will be leased out for 30 years, with scope for renewal.
The Sherpur economic zone, which is proposed to be set up on 353 acres of land, will be 55 kilometres from MAG Osmani International Airport, 435km from the Chittagong port and 208km from Dhaka.
The economic zone will accommodate industrial plants for textile, ceramic, pharmaceutical, paint and food processing plants and create jobs for 40,706 workers. The price of land will be $50 per square metre.
The government plans to start the construction of the Sherpur EZ in 2015 and complete the work by 2018. It will cost $90 million, with only five households to be relocated to accommodate the economic zone.
Kobayashi said the proposed industrial zone in Sherpur has the potential to become one of the top seven economic zones in Asia.
The Mirershorai economic zone will be set up on 6,615.12 acres of land at a cost of $847 million. It however does not have the water supply network at present.
The proposed zone will be 182km from Dhaka, 66km from Chittagong, 79km from the airport and 67 from the sea port.
It will house industries from sectors such as garment, garment accessories, textiles, machinery parts, bike and automobile assembling.
Located along the Dhaka-Chittagong corridor with own power and other infrastructure, Mirershorai economic zone would be competitive, according to Kobayashi.
Its construction will start in 2017, with the third phase scheduled for completion by 2025. It will create jobs for 578,751 workers. About 650 households will have to be rehabilitated.
“The Mirershorai project has the potential to become the largest economic zone in the country,” said Fakhrul Islam, executive chairman of BEZA.
The price of the land has been fixed at $50 per square metre between 2016 and 2020, $70 a square metre between 2023 and 2024 and $80 per square metre after 2024.
The Anwara project will be located on 1,389 acres of land and will be 45km from Chittagong port, 28km from the port city and 46km from the airport. It will cost $239 million.
The zone will have direct sea access, enabling it to attract waterfront industries such as shipbuilding, shipbuilding components, steel, automobile parts, leather goods and pharmaceuticals.
The price of land is estimated at $60-$70 per square metre, with construction due to start in 2017.
It is expected to create jobs for 53,420 workers, while 980 households will have to be relocated.
Mashiur Rahman, economic affairs adviser to the prime minister, recommended setting up a complete township in the proposed economic zones to give workers a better life and their families better access to education and health.
Saifuzzaman Chowdhury Javed, state minister for land, said attracting foreign direct investment would not be a problem if the country can set up economic zones.
Arastoo Khan, additional secretary of the Economic Relations Division, said the vast experience of the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority should be used in advancing the economic zones.
A number of speakers urged the government to conduct a comprehensive Environment Impact Assessment so that natural resources are not damaged due to the economic zones.
The government approved the Economic Zones Act in 2010 to attract both foreign and domestic investors to create 10 million jobs by 2030 and spur economic development. The three EZs have been selected as pilot projects.
Nearly all permits and approvals will be given at the one-stop service at the proposed economic zones, according to the draft study report.