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South Asia

Bangladesh: the uphill battle begins

The nation has navigated the Covid-19 pandemic better than many of its peers, but its luck won’t last unless it brings in some big, meaningful reforms.

Businessman pushing large rock uphill
Photo: Getty Images

More than two years into the pandemic, Bangladesh has proved to be a member in good standing of Asia’s 7% club of nations, set for rapid growth and development in the 2020s. In fact, its economy would seem to have a greater claim to membership than most, considering how it has confounded the sceptics.

When Covid-19 hit, forcing Dhaka and other densely populated manufacturing cities in Bangladesh into lockdown, some feared that factory jobs would be lost to Vietnam. However, Bangladesh’s economy grew 3.5% in 2020, according to the Asian Development Bank, as prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s government avoided the super-spreader scenario that many feared. Vietnam, in comparison, grew 2.9%.

The ADB’s growth forecast for Bangladesh in 2021 was 5.5% as manufacturing and services stabilized, and the south Asian nation is projected to expand 6.8% this year – again, putting it ahead of Vietnam, which is looking at 3.8% growth in 2021 and 6.5% in 2022.

The numbers are solid, but at the micro level, its success story is more troubling. Although Bangladesh surprised the naysayers, the last 24 months have distracted the government from tackling important reforms.