Though often described as one of the least developed countries in South Asia, Bangladesh has overcome significant challenges to become a production hub for international companies that want to enjoy the cheap labor and other facilities the country has to offer.
During my recent one-week stay in Bangladesh, I had the opportunity to visit some of the country’s major factories and Export Processing Zones (EPZ), where thousands of Bangladeshis work to make a living.
With its population of over 160 million, the country suffers from high density and therefore unemployment. Yet, the Bangladeshi government makes efforts to reduce the unemployment by inviting more foreign investors.
Between 2009 and 2017, Bangladeshis EPZs received more than $3 billion dollars in foreign investment, around 200 percent more than in the previous decade. During the same period, the country has also seen a staggering 245.68 percent growth in exports.
More than 283,620 Bangladeshis were currently employed in these zones. In addition, the government is trying to involve other cities in production by asking investors to set up their factories there. It was a considerable success for the country, as the per capita income rose from $560 to $1,602 in just 11 years.
The investments and exports have also proved their significance in terms of the country’s foreign exchange reserves which rose from just $340 million in 2006 to $33 billion dollars in 2017. These figures indicate that Bangladesh has realized the importance of its cheap labor power and transportation facilities.
The poverty, which can still be seen not just in the capital Dhaka, but in rural areas as well, has also gone down from 38.4 percent to 22.4 percent while extreme poverty in the country has been reduced by more than half. One of the biggest challenges for Bangladesh is infrastructure, including the delivery of the electricity. Around 78 percent of the country has access to the electricity, yet the majority of large factories are allowed to build their own power plants so that manufacturing continues 24/7.
The country’s production is not limited to the industrial zones. Thanks to its fertile lands and very suitable weather, the country is self-sufficient in food. Food grain production reached 39 million metric tons as of 2016, whereas agricultural loan disbursement was around $2 billion.
The pharmaceuticals sector is another major source of income for Bangladesh, which is one of largest producers of generic drugs in the world. It meets more than 92 percent of the local market’s need and exports to more than 142 countries worldwide. In 2017, medicine exports brought almost $400 million to the country. The most prominent names in medicine production and export all have their own production and research facilities, making world-class drugs. Despite its dense population, the risk of contagious diseases, high unemployment, discernible poverty and lack of infrastructure, Bangladesh has made economic progress by becoming a center of production.