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Focus on Chattogram

Exploring Ctg bounties to the fullest

December 10, 2023 00:00:00

Nurul Qayyum Khan

FE: Please describe the situation of the business sector in the country now?

Nurul Qayyum Khan: First and foremost, the business sector of our country should not be compartmentalized, since it is intricately affected by the global economic ups and downs and it is no news to anyone that for the last one and a half years the world economy had been going through one of the worst phases primarily due to the Russia-Ukraine war and other related factors. Although the war started in February 2022, its negative impacts on the world economy, and particularly on the economy of our country, started becoming palpable from August last year. There is no denying the fact that the businesses of the country are struggling wherein the country's export has sharply declined due to low demand in the global market for ready-made garments. The situation has been further aggravated by the Israel-Hamas conflicts which have unsettled the Middle Eastern and Gulf regions. In a nutshell, the overall trade and business of the country are not in a good shape but then things are still better-off than those in several of the Southeast Asian countries.

FE: How are the political tensions hampering the business sector now?

NQ Khan: Nobody wants political unrest at the cost of lives and livelihoods of the common people of the country. In the last several weeks there had been a good number of countrywide blockade and strike programmes imposed by some political parties which were definitely meant to disrupt the communication of people and transportation of goods across the country. In a growing economy like ours and at a critical time, especially the last two years in terms of economic downturn all over the world, programmes like blockade and strike should not be a means for any political party to press their demand home. Nevertheless, it is quite interesting to note that general people have paid little heed to the calls for all these political programmes. As per the container and cargo handling statistics recorded by Bangladesh Inland Container Depots Association (BICDA), the blockade and hartal programmes have had little impact on the flow of export and import cargoes and containers between the factories and the Inland Container Depots (ICDs) as well as between the ICDs and the Chittagong Port.

FE: How can the elevated expressway, Chattogram Ring Road, ChattogramCox's Bazar Railway Line and the Bangabandhu Tunnel change the communication or improve trade and commerce?

NQ Khan: Chattogram has long been termed as the commercial capital of the country but the people of Chattogram always used to have the impression that Chattogram had not been in the primary focus of the government that this city of vast potential truly deserved. When this government came to power in 2008 for the second time, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina turned Chattogram into one of her priority regions for extensive development. The Lalkhanbazar-Patenga Elevated Expressway, the four-lane Chattogram Ring/Coastal Road, the Chattogram-Cox's Bazar Railway Line and the Bangabandhu Tunnel will go a long way in turning Chattogram city into a commercial capital in its true sense. All these mega-projects have made the intra-city communication in Chattogram much easier and shorter and they have alleviated the traffic congestions to a large extent. The commutes between different parts of Chattogram have been made easier than before. Chattogram being the most significant commercial and logistics hub of the country and Cox's Bazar harbouring the longest natural beach of the world, the communication between these two locations with the rest of the country has been a key to overall development of Chattogram region and these projects - most of which are complete and the rest are near completion - will be serving the purpose up to the expectation.

FE: What is, you think, the main problem of Chattogram?

NQ Khan: The main problem of Chattogram is its vast resources not being tapped to their fullest extent. The ample possibilities of Chattogram region in the fields of tourism, shipping and logistics, fishing, agriculture, manufacturing and technology are yet to be explored up to the brim. Undoubtedly the present government set the tune when it returned to power back in 2008 and in the last one and a half decades Chattogram saw unforeseen development projects which have come to define Chattogram in a newer and broader perspective.

FE: Is the increase of the rate of dollars hampering the business here in Bangladesh? If it is, how can we control it?

NQ Khan: There is no denying the fact that the US dollar has been rising sharply against virtually every major currency in the world over the last one and a half years and the Bangladeshi Taka is no exception. If we go by the indicators of the global economy, there are hardly any sign that the dollar price will budge soon. And we are not in a position to do anything that can strengthen our currency against US dollars. Nevertheless, there are measures that may be taken to absorb the shock of the increasing dollar price which may include putting restriction on import of luxurious and redundant items without hampering the import of raw materials necessary for production of export goods, putting a hold on default loans so that they cannot grow further, setting policies and regulations for realisation of default loans, implementing policies to attract foreign direct investment and expediting implementation of economic zones, simplification of export process and creating an atmosphere for export diversification, taking steps to reduce time and cost of doing business for both domestic and foreign investors and entrepreneurs and putting in place pragmatic policies and regulations in the shipping and logistics sector. We have to focus on our national growth so that we can bear the brunt of the ongoing global economic downturn wherein we are facing a robust dollar price among other ramifications.

FE: Presently which problem are you facing with your trade and investment?

NQ Khan: Since August 2022, the export and import volumes of the country have been going through a lull which many economists predict will continue up to mid-2024. We have seen a reduction in the volume by 30 per cent in export and import which has been impacting the businesses of the private ICDs as well. When the export-import volume goes down, the revenue of the private ICDs gets impacted and it becomes difficult for the ICDs with colossal investments and huge operational and development costs to make ends meet and keep up their operational activity. The repayment of bank loan installments gets irregular resulting in interest snowballing further since the ICDs in our country do not get to avail of any special lower interest rates the way ICDs in other neighboring countries do.

FE: How will deep-sea port of the Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) make Chattogram a hub of the region?

NQ Khan: The Matarbari deep-sea port recently inaugurated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasian will help broaden the shipping and logistics facilities of the country and it will undoubtedly present a horizon of new opportunities for the nation's maritime industry. This deep-sea port will facilitate transportation of larger volumes of export-import cargoes by giving berths to longer vessels with deeper drafts and higher capacities also known as "mother vessels", making it an attractive port of call for global shipping. It is a laudable effort on the part of Bangladesh to expand its maritime industry and improve its connectivity to other logistics destinations. Once the road connectivity between Chattogram and Matarbari is elevated to four or more lanes, the Matarbari deep-sea port having easy connectivity with the rest of the country via road, rail and waterway will be able to enable quick and affordable flow of export and import goods, making it one of the most significant and lucrative, trade, business and logistics hubs of South Asia.

FE: How can the government help businesses and industries?

NQ Khan: The present government has been focused on creating an environment where businesses and industries may flourish further and explore all their untapped potentials. Infrastructural development on an unprecedented scale has been going on, making communication easier, faster and shorter. The port and logistics sector has been prioritised in order to boost the export and import trade of the country which is one of the most important drivers of the national economy. The government should now identify the thrust sectors in manufacturing and service industries and set in motion all the necessary measures to patronise these industries so that they can establish themselves as pillars of a robust economy.

FE: How will economic zones help industrialization here in Bangladesh?

NQ Khan: Economic zones are a key to attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country and FDI is one of the most important factors in bolstering the national economy. The government has so far approved 97 economic zones, out of which 10 have already been completed and have gone into operation. 29 EZs are in the implementation phase. It is a matter of pride for us that the Mirsarai Economic Zone, the largest in South Asia, is on the fast track for completion. If the economic zones get into operation, they will have a massive contribution to the national economic growth besides creating employment for millions of people. But then for the entrepreneurs or investors the cost and time of doing business should be lowered by simplifying the processes for trade licence, land registration, environmental clearance, construction approval, electricity, gas and water connections, internet access, etc.

FE: If you have any suggestion for future generations and policy-makers about increasing trade and business, please mention.

NQ Khan: I would very humbly like to make one simple suggestion for the future generations: there is no alternative to hard work and dedication, if success is to be attained, no matter which sector you are going to put your effort in. No one can have a short-cut way to success in life and even if someone gets it, it is short-lived.

As for the policy-making in our country, we sometimes sadly observe that pragmatic knowledge, perspective and vision obtained from practical experience do not get reflected in some of the policies, which in turn hinder the growth or development of a particular sector. Therefore, prior to formulating a policy regarding any issue or any particular sector or industry, it is to be studied and analyzed by people who have thorough knowledge and experience thereof. Knowing pros and cons is the most important phase before making a policy. So, my humble request to the policy-makers is: Please know it before you make a policy of it.

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