Let us try to understand how fast Bangladesh wants to transform. The size of its Budget in financial year (FY) 2008-09 was BDT 95,295 crore. In FY2020-21, it was BDT 568,000 crore, a growth of around 600% over a span of 2 years! It says all about how eager the nation is to move forward. The present government aspires to touch the level of a developed economy by the year 2041. The manifesto of any government always contains aspirational targets and the electorate generally takes these with a pinch of salt.
Defying All Odds
However, we in Bangladesh are experiencing a great journey towards that dream. Long term, mid-term and short-term plans targeting to achieve the dream have been drawn and are being implemented. Some of the major steps include 100 economic zones, massive power and connectivity projects across the country and many more.
The double-deck bridge on the mighty Padma is a symbolic monument to the nation’s pride and undaunted spirit to rise, defying all odds. The last span to link the entire 6.15-km bridge was installed on December 10, 2020. There are much bigger projects in the government pipeline but the Padma Bridge is a self-financed and most-talked about project here. A joint local-foreign conspiracy to stop it and smear the nation with stigma was challenged and strong determination of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh finally won, which instilled confidence and subsequently helped the government to launch bigger and more challenging projects one after another. People now believe any project is possible, be it a nuclear power plant or a tunnel under a mighty river.
During the pandemic, there were apprehensions about the health and economic scenario. But, today we see Bangladesh has really done well in both sectors and managed the pandemic far better than many advanced nations. It was not easy to decide closing down economic activities and then allowing specific sectors (apparel, for instance) to operate. A country with limited resources had to choose wisely each and every action knowing the risk on both sides. Today, in retrospect, we see every step has been meaningful and the situation we are in today is the best one we could have imagined in April-May, 2020.
Bangladesh has conceived some highly ambitious plans, like becoming an exporting nation in the automobile sector! Or, even accommodating all plants and factories inside economic zones only! There are people who doubt such ambitions, yet there are others who believe if the Prime Minister targets something, she achieves it.
Across Bangladesh, you will find one common motif – construction is under way. That means steel, cement and other construction materials are in use. It may be noted that steel consumption in Bangladesh started rising merely in the last few years. Ship-breaking steel once upon a time had been the only source of the metal. Today, it is serving only 5-10% of the total demand for steel. Quality steel is now the backbone of the construction industry. Complying with international standards, our local re-bars are in use in all monumental projects. In comparison to this scenario, Bangladesh once allowed imports of the BS4449 Grade 460 re-bars from Belgium for use in the first Bangabondhu (Jamuna) bridge as it was not available locally. Today, all kinds of construction bars are available in the country, complying with any international standard that a project demands.
Per capita steel consumption has risen from about 25 kg in 2012 to 45-plus kg at present. There were some setbacks like the devastating floods in 2017 and the Rohingya issue, followed by the pandemic of 2020. These disturbances slowed down the progress to some extent.
If you see Bangladesh at current figures, it is still very unattractive altogether. Ease of doing business, cost of doing business, per capita income, socio economic indices are all still at humble levels. It still has a long way to go. But, when you compare the current figures with the previous ten years’ then you may just wonder, where is it headed?
Yes, 45 kg per capita steel consumption in the year 2020, by itself, is a small figure, no doubt. But it is about one-fifth of the world average.
With the country’s per capita income growing, consumption is expected to increase. Expecting a better economy, going forward, cement plants have ramped up capacity further, steel players in the country are increasing their capacity or installing new facilities. Diversification is happening too.
The country’s first steel servicing centre, FastBuildTM, was launched in Chattogram in 2019, an initiative of BSRM. This pioneering steel concern also introduced Fusion Bonded Epoxy Coated Rebar (FBECR) and Welded Wire Reinforcement (WWR) for the first time in the country. It is just to remind readers that the next phase of construction practices has already started in Bangladesh. It is not unlikely that we shall see all the best practices of modern construction here. It is only a matter of time.
Where scrap imports are concerned, these have risen from 2.68 million tonnes (MnT) in FY2017-18 to 4.37 MnT in FY2019-20, that too against the backdrop of the engulfing pandemic. Today, Bangladesh is a name frequently mentioned in the scrap world. From nil, it has indeed become a factor in the international scrap market.
The economy is recovering quite fast from the curse of the pandemic. Overall, the construction sector has seen a boom of late. International markets, of course, lead the way, but, uncommon to most other economies, Bangladesh has shown overall performance. According to a study by Standard Chartered Bank, Bangladesh is likely to recover faster than its Asian peers from the Covid-19 pandemic powered by domestic consumption and remittance inflow. That’s what is happening now.
Foreign currency reserves touched record levels in recent times, rising from USD 35.85 billion in end-June, 2020 to USD 42.67 billion in end-January, 2021.
Of course, there are challenges too. The most densely populated country in the world always has the challenge of ensuring facilities are available, utilising its limited resources. A large population lives below the poverty line. Educating all is still a challenge.
But, anti-corruption measures are expected to be handled with tougher hands. Business-friendly measures are expected to be adopted. Port facilities are to keep improving in tandem with the increase in business volumes. Fortunately, there is no threat of a war, insurgency or rebellion, which many other nations face.
Not a ‘Bottomless Basket’
There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful about our economy. The government aspires to achieve the status of a developed nation by the year 2041. Bangladesh will be 70 years old by then. A host of plans are needed to achieve the dream and the country is relentlessly working towards that goal. The focus is intact.
The year 2021 is the Golden Jubilee of our Independence achieved through the shedding of an immense amount of blood, the sacrifice of more than three million lives, and the torture of a few hundreds of thousands of women. But the nation did not bend to Pakistan and was determined to achieve its Independence. It was achieved but at a very high cost, though. The present government has the strong determination to show the world that we have risen from the ashes of 1971 to bloom as an economic power which is not to be labelled as a “bottomless basket”.
Mohammad Imtiaz Uddin Chowdhury is Head, Sales & Marketing, at BSRM Group, Bangladesh. A construction industry veteran, he has been serving this segment for more than 12 years.
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