Debapriya Bhattacharya
Debapriya BhattacharyaFile photo

Bangladesh has fulfilled all the three conditions for its transition from the status of Least Developed Country (LDCs) to that of a developing country. Bangladesh was faring well in all aspects, but COVID-19 came along and disrupted everything. There are some structural concerns too.

Discussions have been on for some time, especially after the outbreak of COVID, as to whether Bangladesh should make this transition the moment. To this end, Bangladesh has applied for an extension of two years, meaning that even if Bangladesh meets the conditions in 2021, the transition will take place in 2026 instead of 2024. I think this makes sense.

This is not the first time that this crossover has been delayed. Earlier, Nepal and Maldives had also applied for extensions. Nepal applied because of the earthquake and Maldives due to the tsunami.

We also have to try for an uninterrupted flow of the funds coming for the Rohingyas for a reasonable period of time. The main point of discussion is how to do this. We have to keep this issue in the purview of the international community

However, just an extension of time is not enough. We have to utilise this time effectively. We are now talking about the strategies during the transition, but what we have to keep in mind what will happen after the transition. We have to look into the possibilities of continuing to receive the opportunities and benefits even after the transition.

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We also have to try for an uninterrupted flow of the funds coming for the Rohingyas for a reasonable period of time. The main point of discussion is how to do this. We have to keep this issue in the purview of the international community.

Countries other than Bangladesh may also apply for an extension of time and so we need to take note of what decisions are taken in those cases. The plenary session of the United Nations Committee for Development Policy (UNCDP) will be held in February. There it will be decided whether the terms will be extended separately for each country or whether all countries' applications will be approved together. I think this is a big opportunity for Bangladesh. Considering its geographical location, economic and political power in the region, Bangladesh is in the forefront now. As a result, it remains to be seen how Bangladesh moves forward with the other countries. Bangladesh is in the lead now.

Given this reality, international support and development strategies need to be reconsidered. The eighth Five-Year plan is being revised, the strategy for implementing the SDGs is being reconsidered, and the perspective plan is underway. Coordination between these is important now. A lack of coordination emerges when many projects are running at the same time. On the other hand, just as the ministry of foreign affairs is involved in this issue, so is the Economic Relations Department (ERD). Coordination between them is very important.

It is necessary to formulate strategies on how to deal with this complex situation and move towards implementation. Bangladesh is very skilled in formulating strategies. What we need is implementation

Bangladesh will lose some benefits and facilities after the transition. However, in this case, we seem to be only concerned about the readymade garment sector. But there are challenges in many other sectors too. After the upgrade, we have to implement the intellectual property law in the pharmaceutical industry, we have to withdraw subsidy from agriculture. These are significant problems for us. We have to decide now about how to deal with these matters.

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Besides, we have to explore the possibilities of getting income-based loans and getting loans with exempted interest as a lower middle income country.

The point is, everything, from trade to agricultural subsidies, has to be extended for a reasonable time after the passage.

While the transition is being discussed in New York, there are other discussions in the World Trade Organization and the European Union. Then there is Brexit. The United Kingdom withdrew from the European Union. In other words, not all global efforts are running in one direction. As a result, it is necessary to formulate strategies on how to deal with this complex situation and move towards implementation. Bangladesh is very skilled in formulating strategies. What we need is implementation.

* Debapriya Bhattacharya is distinguished fellow, CPD and member, UNCDP

* This opinion appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashish Basu