The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has suggested setting up of an economic corridor in the country’s north-eastern region, comprising nine districts, to unlock its business and economic potential. The Manila-based agency also insisted that Bangladesh should adopt a legislation towards establishing dedicated authorities for development and management of its economic corridors.
Under a stepwise approach, the ADB says, a taskforce of Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) can be created to undertake activities pertaining to development of economic corridors during the initial phase of planning and development of priority trunk infrastructures.
The Northeast Bangladesh Economic Corridor will comprise Narayanganj, Gazipur, Narsingdi, Kishoreganj, Mymensingh, Netrakona, Brahmanbaria, Habiganj and Sylhet, according to an ADB study. The ADB said that the region is resource-rich and has great potential because of its strategic location which is closer to India, Bhutan and Nepal.
As a long-term strategy, the agency also recommended to establish a dedicated regulatory body styled ‘Bangladesh Economic Corridor Development Authority (BECDA)’ with a provision that the BIDA taskforce is subsumed in it.
The suggestions came in a written statement at a consultation workshop held recently at Dhaka with a view to seeking stakeholders’ feedback on proposed Northeast Bangladesh Economic Corridor (NEBEC) development.
ADB and BIDA jointly organized the workshop with the financial assistance from Poverty Reduction and Regional Cooperation Fund of the People’s Republic of China.
Minister of Planning MA Mannan joined the workshop as chief guest. Prime Minister’s Advisor for Private Sector Industries and Investment Salman F Rahman and Principal Coordinator (SDG Affairs) Md Abul Kalam Azad also addressed the workshop. BIDA Executive Chairman Sirazul Islam and ADB Country Director Manmohan Parkash co-chaired the event.
Soon Chan Hong, senior economist (South Asia department) at the ADB made a presentation on Bangladesh Economic Corridor in the workshop.
Hong pointed that, the proposed economic corridor will not only improve transport gateways and connectivity within Bangladesh, it will also has the potential to enhance the country’s role as land bridge between South Asia via India and Southeast Asia via Myanmar.
According to ADB, the main route for transportation, having extensions to key gateways such as the Mongla, Payra and Benapole ports, would form a grid network. It will not only increase intra-regional trade and investment but also play a pivotal role in integrating economies across the region.
ADB confirms that a study is in progress to assess the potential of proposed NEBEC involving nine districts in Dhaka, Sylhet, Chittagong and Mymensingh divisions. The study is expected to end by March next year.
Earlier, the agency conducted similar study on southwest economic corridor comprising Dhaka, Khulna and Jashore. The previous study found that the South-West Bangladesh Economic Corridor (SWBEC) will add $148 billion to Bangladesh’s economy and generate 25 million of corridor-induced employment by 2050 once it is materialized properly. In its alignment, the SWBEC involves Jessore, Khulna, Bagerhat, Gopalganj, Faridpur, Magura and Narail districts and Benalpole and Payra ports.
The ADB says materializing economic corridors will require establishing a bouquet of infrastructures relating to roads, railway, inland water transport, urban facilities, industrial hubs and trade gateways like sea and land ports.
It says economic corridor is a development tool which can make coordinated and holistic development by fostering development of promising industries in the corridor region.
The infrastructure is built based on planned industrial development, and urban centers are developed to meet the demand of the industries. Such an approach helps achieve rapid inclusive growth by ensuring better distribution of the benefits of development.
It says proposed economic corridors will be aligned with Asian highways, SASEC, BIMSTEC and BCIM corridors.
The ADB says it has initiated studies on two proposed economic corridors considering their necessity to achieve the goal of becoming middle-income country by 2030 as envisioned in Vision 2041. It will also provide financial assistance to the government to materialize the economic corridors.
Geographic concentration of economic activities in Dhaka and Chattogram regions make other regions neglected, despite their huge potentials, it finds.
It also emphasized that northeast region of Bangladesh is one such area with lots of resources, rich endowments, and strategic location for cross-border trade with northeast India, Bhutan, and Nepal. Stressing that the government should pursue regionally balanced development, the ADB says regions other than Dhaka and Chattogram should be developed based on their endowments, potential and comparative advantages.
ADB analyses that cities in these regions should provide quality urban services, and rural areas and hinterland should be developed, infrastructure development should be further emphasized, streamlined connections between production centers and consumption centers and trade gateways should be ensured with quality infrastructure for all points. Utilities including uninterrupted power supply, gas and water need to be provided for the industries and urban areas.
The ADB finds that the per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in northeast districts of Bangladesh is below national average. According to 2017 data, per capita GDP in northeast Bangladesh registered $1,409 against national per capital GDP of $1,516.
Provisional data produced by the Planning Ministry of Bangladesh in March this year showed that the per capita GDP rose to $1,827 in 2018-19 from $1,675 in the previous year.
Bangladesh’s per capita gross national income (GNI) increased to $1,909 last fiscal year from $1,751 a year ago.
Some 130 participants including government officials, development experts, researchers and development partner representatives attended the workshop.