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Country needs policy actions to overcome COVID-19 shocks: experts

  • BSS
Photo: CIAT

Speakers at a dialogue here yesterday said Bangladesh needs to quickly design and roll out policy actions and reforms on long-standing issues holding back private investment to effectively address the unfolding impact of COVID-led economic shocks.

In order to boost the investment climate in the country to help stimulate recovery and infuse dynamism in investment in a post-COVID world, the speakers also highlighted some of the immediate priorities.

These are identification of new opportunities that COVID-19 presents, aligning critical reforms with country’s formal development strategies, actively exploring new investment sources such as from those in Europe and South Asia, aligning the vision of the top policymakers with the actions at the implementation level and addressing tax and foreign exchange constraints.

The insights and views were shared at the third Resurgent Dialogue ‘Private Investment in Uncertain Times: COVID Impact and Policy Implications for Bangladesh’, organized by Resurgent Bangladesh, an economic recovery initiative put together by MCCI, DCCI, Chittagong Stock Exchange, BUILD, and Policy Exchange.

The session, moderated by MCCI President Barrister Nihad Kabir, was attended by members of parliament, executive chairman of BIDA, executive chairman of BEPZA, serving and former top civil servants, leading foreign and local investors, economists, and development partners.

Asif Ibrahim, chairman of Chittagong Stock Exchange and member of Resurgent Bangladesh steering committee, delivered the welcome remarks where he stressed the need for enhancing private investment and to improve the business climate to help Bangladesh meet development needs and also to devise effective revival from COVID-19 shocks.

Policy Exchange Chairman Dr. Masrur Reaz made the keynote presentation where he stressed the need for identifying evolving shifts in global production systems, investor priorities and how they shape future investment outlook, opportunities, and associated policy framework in the wake of COVID-led economic challenges.

Dr. Reaz also laid out possible strategic opportunities to leverage, and a five-pronged approach to revive the lagging pace of private and foreign investment in Bangladesh.

Former Industries Secretary and National Board of Revenue (NBR) Chairman Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan called for stepping up regular and structured dialogue between regulators such as NBR and business community.

Another former Chairman of NBR Dr. Nasiruddin Ahmed underscored the need for modernization of the NBR and tax systems into the long-term development strategies such as the 8th five year plan.

Chairman of BUILD Abul Kasem Khan suggested that Bangladesh needs to better exploit the huge markets of China and India.

President of Spanish Chamber and member of European Union Business Council Nuria Lopez, Foreign Chamber Executive Director Nurul Kabir and General Secretary of Economic Reporters Forum (ERF) Rashidul Islam also spoke among others.

Summarizing the discussions, DCCI President Shams Mahmud shared difficult experience of Italian investors in Bangladesh and how regulatory service-delivery agencies in government create hurdles for investors.

Nahim Razzak MP, a member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs hinted that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recently formed a dedicated unit to support trade and investment initiatives. He voiced his support for quick reforms to address the long-standing tax issues.

Waseqa Ayesha Khan, MP, finance and planning secretary of Awami League central committee, shared multi-pronged government strategies to deal with economic impact of COVID, and also agreed with the need for quick reforms to improve the ‘Doing Business’ ranking, and Bangladesh’s branding.

Executive Chairman of BEPZA Major General Salahuddin Islam said three foreign firms have invested around $15 million in EPZs despite this coronavirus pandemic and this indicates that more foreign investment will come to Bangladesh during the post-pandemic situation.

He also hinted that the bold stimulus and the labor cost advantage will help Bangladesh tap greater private investments. He also stressed the need for addressing inefficiencies at the level of service delivery to the investors.

BIDA Executive Chairman Sirazul Islam said that the government is moving ahead with reforms in bankruptcy and customs act. He highlighted that line agencies providing last-mile services to investors need to quickly complete their IT readiness.

Syed Nasim Manzur, managing director of Apex Footwear, suggested that weaknesses in customs and logistics, and foreign exchange regime create burden on both local and foreign private investors and it requires immediate overhaul.

Kedar Lele, managing director and CEO of Unilever Bangladesh, emphasized on opportunities to tap into South Asia intraregional trade and investment prospects.

Grameen Phone CEO Yaser Azman opined that the reform of overall regulatory framework followed by tax policy consistency will help significantly improve the business climate.

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