Bangladesh can become an export powerhouse, after China, as its labour-intensive export sector is growing by 30 percent a year driven by booming manufacturing and agricultural activities.
To realise the opportunity, the government must remove infrastructure bottlenecks, cut import costs of raw materials for exporters and use the underemployed labour.
"Bangladesh has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually achieve 9 percent growth by taking more markets and transform its economy," said Emeritus Professor of Boston University Gustav F Papanek at a discussion yesterday.
"If it acts, Bangladesh can create three million jobs a year rather than less than one million, double its national income in eight years and largely eliminate poverty," added Papanek, also president of Boston Institute for Developing Economics.
But he warned: "If Bangladesh fails to act in the next one year to two, it will miss the boat. Others will take the markets China is being forced to abandon."
Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) organised the discussion at Sonargaon Hotel as part of a daylong conference to lay out vision strategies for growth of Bangladesh economy by 2030.
Papanek's prediction comes at a time when Bangladesh looks to jump to the status of a middle-income country banking on more than 5 percent expansion of its economy a year.
He said Bangladesh needs to quickly eliminate bottlenecks in infrastructure and reduce corruption.
Former adviser to a caretaker government Hossain Zillur Rahman said the risks are there. "One of them is miss the bus syndrome." Other risks include political instability, corruption and stagnant investment, he said.
Centre for Policy Dialogue Executive Director Mustafizur Rahman said Bangladesh has to ensure good governance and participatory democracy for inclusive growth.