The beginning of a new chapter in industrialisation
As of now, development work for the establishment of 28 economic zones is underway. And four government-owned zones -- the BSMSN, Jamalpur Economic Zone, Sabrang Tourism Park, Maheshkhali Economic Zone, and Shreehatta Economic Zone -- have received $22 billion in investment proposals.
Also, $4 billion has been invested so far in 12 private economic zones, said officials of BEZA, which has also granted permission for four economic zones under state-to-state contracts with Japan and China, two with India, and one under public-private partnership.
The economic zones are expected to be the catalyst for Bangladesh's aspirations to become an industrial and advanced economy.
The share of manufacturing as a percentage of Bangladesh's gross domestic product (GDP) is now over one-fifth of the country's total $465 billion GDP.
At its independence in 1971, Bangladesh's economy was highly agriculture-driven. The share of manufacturing was just four per cent of the total output at the time, according to World Bank data.
Beza said the BSMSN, being developed in areas under Mirsharai, Sitakunda, and Sonagaziupazila, will attract the highest amount of investment among the economic zones.
As of now, it has received $18.5 billion in investment proposals, including $1 billion in foreign investment.
The total area of the BSMSN has already surpassed the combined 8,360 acres of industrial area developed by the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority and Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation.
As of now, nearly 10,000 acres of land have been developed at the BSMSN. Some 147 local and foreign businesses have leased 5,369 acres of land from Beza to establish factories and market products at home and abroad.
The investment by these businesses is expected to create 765,000 jobs in the BSMSN alone, Beza said.
"The economic zones will be industrial hubs if the authority ensures all the infrastructure and other supports," said M Anis UdDowla, chairman of ACI Group, which operates in diversified areas from retailing, food, agribusiness and pharmaceuticals to consumer goods.
ACI has got 100 acres land on lease to set up production units at the BSMSN. Dowla said the company is participating in the zones as all the facilities required by industries will be there.
"We will be taking full advantage of that," he said. "We are hopeful that the economic zones will succeed and contribute to the economic advancement of Bangladesh."
"Besides, the outputs that will be produced in the economic zone will be helpful for export," he added.
Dowlathen said ACI will set up its plants as fast as possible.
Meanwhile PHP, a Chattogram-based business house engaged in the float glass, steel and shipbreaking industries, has got a lease of 500 acres of land in the BSMSN.
PHP plans to establish a basic steel factory at the economic zone, Sufi Mohamed Mizanur Rahman, founder chairman of PHP, told The Daily Star last month.
With an investment of $4 billion, the factory in the economic zone will have the capacity to produce 30 lakh tonnes of steel.
"We will have our jetty there to handle goods," he added.
Connected by water and road with the country's largest seaport in Chattogram, the BSMSN will produce numerous import substitutes and export-oriented products, and provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to transport raw materials and finished products by water and road.
Two concerns of TK Group, another big business house based in Chattogram, are going produce import-substitute items at the BSMSN.
Samuda Construction, a concern of TK Group, is making Precast High-Performance Concrete (PHC) pilings that are used for building and bridge construction.
At present, a good volume of PHC is imported into the country to build infrastructure, including the third terminal of the HazratShahjalal International Airport, said Md Mustafizur Rahman, a director of TK Group.
"It has use as protection for river banks and shores, and various public and industrial construction too," he said, adding that the company is using these piles in its own factories.
The PHC pilings will enable builders to reduce the time taken for manually making pilings during the construction of buildings and other infrastructure such as bridges, according to officials of Samuda.
"This is handy and does not have hassle," Rahman added.
TK Group is also establishing another factory, Modern Syntax Ltd, to make textile-grade PET chips at the BSMSN to cater to the requirement of yarn-making mills.
The factory will produce various textile-related products, such as drone textured polyester yarn, polyester staple fibreand PET chips as import-substitutes.
With an investment of $155 million, Modern Syntax wants to start commercial operation by March 2023, Rahman said.
Once it starts production, it will be able to meet 38 per cent of the annual demand for PET chips and other products.
Modern Syntax has a 460-tonne production capacity while the annual demand for such items is 12,250 tonnes, the official of TK Group said.
He urged the National Board of Revenue (NBR) to frame the import duty structure in a way that encourages entrepreneurs to establish import substitute industries and make locally made goods competitive with their imported counterparts.
While the BSMSN is going to see rising industrial activities, private economic zones are also advancing as the production of seven factories in the Meghna Industrial Economic Zone (MEZ), a concern of Meghna Group of Industries (MGI), is going to be inaugurated today.
This includes the biggest PVC factory, Meghna PVC Ltd,which will produce petrochemical products that Bangladesh currently depends on imports for.
The factory will manufacture Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) resin and Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) resin (bottle grade) for selling among makers of wires and cables, floor paving materials, artificial leather, toys and shoemakers as well as carbonated beverage and drinking water bottlers.
"We are the first local company coming to the petrochemical industry," said MGI Chairman and Managing Director Mostafa Kamal.
He said every country in the world has economic zones and the establishment of organised industrial enclaves should have been done earlier.
"We are on right track though. Economic zones will be instrumental in accelerating investments and industrialisation. We have already got a dozen foreign investors, and they have come because we have economic zones," he added.
Kamal went on to say that 14,000-15,000 jobs have already been created by the three private economic zones being developed by MGI.
"There will be value addition because of the establishment of industries and scope for exporting goods produced in the economic zones," he said.
Shaikh Yusuf Harun, executive chairman of Beza, said exports by factories under the export processing zones make up one-fifth of the country's total annual export earnings.
Besides, the total area of export processing zones is much lower than that of economic zones.
"So, if factories from a small area can contribute 20 per cent of the export earnings, think about the impact of the BSMSN, which alone will be 33,000 acres," he added.
In 2015, Bezahad set an ambitious target of establishing 100 economic zones.
Harun said they plan to set up the economic zones by 2041 with Beza expecting the industrial enclaves to create jobs for one crore of people.
Of them, there will be 50 private economic zones while the rest will be government-ownedunder the public-private partnership arrangement and government-to-government contracts.
"Bangladesh will become a developed country if we can properly develop and run economic zones, hi-tech parks, and export processing zones," he added.