Bangladesh needs to quickly remove any barriers preventing growth in both domestic and foreign direct investment (FDI) in order to ensure the country's economic recovery from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, speakers said at a virtual discussion held yesterday.
Identifying new opportunities for business amid the Covid-19 situation, aligning critical reforms with formal development strategies and actively exploring fresh investment sources from places such as the EU and South Asia will be crucial in this regard.
Besides, issues like tax and foreign exchange constraints should be immediately addressed to boost the country's investment climate and bring investment dynamics back to normal in the post-coronavirus era, they said.
The virtual meeting styled, 'Private Investment in Uncertain Times: Covid Impact and Policy Implications for Bangladesh', was organised by Resurgent Bangladesh, a platform to plan economic recovery initiatives amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
This was the third Resurgent Dialogue session featuring members of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DCCI), Chittagong Stock Exchange (CSE), Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD) and Policy Exchange.
The meeting, moderated by MCCI President Nihad Kabir, was also attended by members of parliament, the executive chairman of BIDA, executive chairman of BEPZA, both serving and former civil servants, leading foreign and local investors, economists and development partners.
CSE Chairman Asif Ibrahim, also a member of the Resurgent Bangladesh steering committee, emphasised enhancing private investment and the business climate in Bangladesh to help the country meet its development needs and devise effective recovery plans.
During his keynote presentation, Policy Exchange Chairman Masrur Reaz stressed the need to identify the shifting trends of global production systems, investor priorities and how they shape future investment outlook, new opportunities and the associated policy framework.
Reaz also laid out possible strategic moves to gain leverage and a five-pronged approach to revive the lagging private and foreign investment in Bangladesh, according to a DCCI statement.
Syed Nasim Manzur, managing director of Apex Footwear, said weaknesses in customs, logistics and foreign exchange create a colossal burden for both local and foreign investors and thereby warrant an immediate overhaul.
Meanwhile, Kedar Lele, managing director and CEO of Unilever Bangladesh, suggested that Bangladesh should tap into more South Asian markets through intraregional trade and other investment prospects.
Moreover, an overall reform of the country's regulatory framework followed by the introduction of consistent tax policies will significantly improve the business climate, said Grameenphone CEO Yasir Azman.
Former industries secretary and National Board of Revenue (NBR) chairman Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan called for more regular and structured dialogues between the business community and various regulatory bodies such as the NBR.
Another former NBR chairman, Nasiruddin Ahmed, stressed the need to include the modernisation of the NBR and tax systems into long-term development strategies, such as the 8th five-year plan.
BUILD Chairman Abul Kasem Khan said that Bangladesh needs to better exploit the huge potential of markets like China and India.
During discussions, DCCI President Shams Mahmud shared some of the difficult experiences Italian investors in Bangladesh have had to bear, adding that regulatory bodies create numerous hurdles.
Nahim Razzak, a member of the parliamentary standing committee on foreign affairs, hinted that the foreign affairs ministry recently formed a dedicated unit to support trade and investment initiatives.
He too voiced his support for quick reforms and addressing the long-standing tax issues.
Waseqa Ayesha Khan MP, finance and planning secretary of the Awami League central committee, also agreed with the need for quick reforms to improve Bangladesh's ease of doing business ranking and branding.
The government's bold stimulus packages and cheap labour in Bangladesh will help the country secure more private investment, said Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority's Executive Chairman Salahuddin Islam, adding that service delivery for investors needs to be streamlined as well.
The government is moving ahead with its plans to implement reforms in the bankruptcy and customs act, said Sirazul Islam, executive chairman of Bangladesh Investment Development Authority.
He also highlighted the fact that the line-agencies providing last-mile services to investors need to improve their IT skills.