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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.