The fourth industrial revolution might hit Bangladesh's economy badly and create huge challenges for the country if it fails to embrace advanced digital technology, experts said yesterday.
Robots are now working alongside humans giving a boost to production in different countries and the trend will accelerate by the day, said Ratnakar Adhikari, executive director for enhanced integrated framework at the World Trade Organisation.
“This will put extra pressure on the economies like Bangladesh,” Adhikari said in a discussion on “The impact of the fourth industrial revolution on trade and economic development”.
Bangladesh Foreign Trade Institute (BFTI) organised the discussion at its office in Dhaka.
After the fourth industrial revolution, the least developed countries (LDCs) will not get any preferential trade treatment, he said.
Bangladesh is the largest LDC in the world and is expected to leave the group in 2024. Advanced digital technology will remove the low-cost labour benefit and developed countries will bring back factories to their countries where robots will do all the works, experts said.
This might impact Bangladesh's garment industry badly, they opined.
The fourth industrial revolution will create some challenges, including large-scale job losses, as well as privacy and cybersecurity issues as lots of tools will be used to improve productivity, Adhikari added.
“The partnership between the public and the private sectors needs to be strengthened to match with the next revolution and policies should be framed in a way that supports the private sector.”
“If we fail to catch this bus, it will never come back for us again and we will lose our way,” said Abul Kasem Khan, president of Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Bangladesh is yet to reach the second industrial revolution level but time has come for the country to leapfrog and move for the fourth industrial revolution, he said.
To do so, Khan suggested a massive policy reform that promotes technology, engages the private sector in the country's development and improves the education system.
Currently, the government has only engaged the private sector to generate electricity, but entrepreneurs can develop some other sectors like infrastructure building, which will give a boost to the economy and create numerous jobs, he added.
“Some garment factories are already using robots and getting much higher production than humans. This will cut jobs in the garment sector rapidly,” said Ali Ahmed, chief executive officer of BFTI.
“Devastation will not stop if we close our eyes. So, we need to make preparations to match with the new technological innovation,” said Ahmed.
India leapfrogged from the agriculture economy to the service economy on the back of technological advancement, said Shantanu Das, vice president of PFM Monitoring and Evaluation of India.
Right now 60 percent of India's national earnings come from the service sector and Bangladesh can follow the same route, he said.
“Don't be scared about technology or IT services and in every aspect of production you need to adopt it,” said Das.
The country has serious lacking in policy formation and most of the policies do not match with current technological advancement, said Toufiqul Islam, a deputy secretary of the planning ministry.
“Even the third world countries have adopted advanced policies on digital financing but we have failed to that.”
The country is far behind in taking preparations to embrace the fourth industrial revolution, said Nahrin Rahman Swarna, an assistant research associate of the BFTI.
“We can be hit with a shock from job cut within a few years as the competitive advantage will go and foreign direct investment will fall as a consequence.”
Swarna recommended the government take initiative to improve the educational system and reform it.
The first industrial revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production. The second used electric power to create the mass production. The third used electronics and information technology to automate production.
Now a fourth industrial revolution is building on the third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century.
It is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres, according to Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum.