The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution this week, confirming the graduation of Bangladesh, Nepal and Laos out of the LDC (least developed country) list, following up on a June recommendation of its Committee for Development Policy that these countries had met all the criteria and were now ready to take this important step on their development journeys. Even so, there is a transition phase for any country that graduates because it implies the loss of significant support programmes that the UN system provides to the LDCs. Usually this is for three years during which all the support programmes stay in place but in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, in our case (and Nepal and Laos of course) this will be for five years.

The upcoming graduation has of course been big news in Bangladesh for more than a year now, and no doubt it is a matter of pride for the country, as has been correctly stated by members of the government, economists, businessmen and analysts during all this time, but it does also call for prompt measures to prepare for all the post-transition challenges we will surely face. Most advanced economies have some set of uniform policies by way of trade benefits, for example duty-free and quota-free access to their markets for products made in the LDCs, and these will no longer apply automatically for our export-oriented goods. We will have to negotiate these for our businesses, and that means our trade negotiators will have to really up their game, since we know it is not always easy, or at all, for smaller or rather less powerful countries such as ours to come away from one-to-one negotiations with powerful nations and point to too many significant concessions.

There are also multilateral concessions and benefits, such as the TRIPS provision that was negotiated through the World Trade Organisation. The TRIPS agreement is what allowed Bangladeshi pharmaceuticals like Beximco and Eskayef become the first manufacturers of the generic versions of Merck's highly-anticipated pill to treat COVID-19, that we reported last week, without owning the intellectual property rights for it, or obtaining a license from the US-based drugs giant. Negotiations are currently in progress under various pretexts - not all related to our LDC graduation - for the extension of such agreements.

The LDC group, including Bangladesh, will meet at the 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation this week, with proposals to continue the GSP facility for 6-9 years after LDC graduation and to continue the various facilities enjoyed by LDCs for 12 years or some similar fixed period post-LDC graduation. While LDC graduation is undoubtedly a landmark achievement for the country, it will come with many of its own attendant challenges, and the country will do well to always keep that in mind, even as it takes pride and allows itself a moment to celebrate. The most obvious one would probably be retaining access to some of the most lucrative markets in the world. In order to retain competitiveness in export, it will be necessary to facilitate imports, diversify export products as well as attract foreign direct investment through the improvement of the business environment. It will be no bed of roses. But we must step forth with the confidence that we can handle it.

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