Although entirely anticipated for a good three years now, the United Nations’ Committee for Development Policy’s final recommendation this week that Bangladesh commence the final lap on the road out of the Least Developed Countries grouping, ‘graduation’ they call it, will nevertheless stand as a landmark moment in the history of the nation forged out of the blood of martyrs. Born into almost impossible odds, the country quickly became identified amongst UN agencies and the erstwhile donor nations as ‘the test case for development’. Even till the early 2000s, the possibility of turning into a failed state that had dogged the country since birth, was not quite allowed to die. Nowadays you most definitely don’t hear it much. Come 2026, the dream of living in dignity for themselves and their future generations, dreamt by 75 million men and women who yearned for freedom.
Their bravery and conviction means today, 170 million Bangladeshis can rightly hold their heads high. They are honouring the dream of their predecessors by not standing still. They are working today to take that dream further, as far as they can, before passing on the baton to the ones that follow them. Under the present government, we have moved forward with a more deliberate sense of purpose towards this marker in the sand.
The closing lap for us, thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic’s pervasive assault on the economy, is set to be two-thirds longer than the usual three years. Which is fine, because it is at Dhaka’s request. Much better than the indefinite postponement being advised by some quarters, particularly since the advent of the novel Coronavirus. Many economists are invoking a dilemma: can the intangible, long term benefits speculated for the economy really outweigh the clear, calculable, sometimes double-digit waivers in tariff rates for our exports or concessionary interest rates on loans in foreign currency.
Yet it is not a given that whatever of the international support mechanisms afforded to LDCs is availed by Bangladeshis will have to be given up entirely at the altar of development. Trade preferences are often phased out slowly. For example the European Union has already said they would be extending their ‘Everything But Arms’ initiative in trade with the LDCs to Bangladesh for a standard period of three years beyond graduation (2029).
There is no evidence to suggest that graduated LDCs immediately face higher interest rates on loans. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund do not officially recognise the LDC category, so graduation has no impacts on loans or grants from these institutions. So let us prepare diligently to usher in the new chapter, and cast off aspersions. Let us reflect on the path we have tread, and take some pride in how far we've come.