UNCTAD –Bangladesh has laid down an exemplary digital foundation and is striving to prepare its citizens for the digital future, an UNCTAD assessment of the country’s readiness to engage in e-commerce shows.
The enormous growth in its information and communications technology (ICT) sector and its young, dynamic and IT savvy population can only make things better, the assessment report indicates.
“Bangladesh is fertile ground for e-commerce to take root and benefit companies and consumers alike,” said UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics, Shamika N. Sirimanne, while launching the assessment report in Dhaka on 25 July.
The report is expected to inform the Bangladeshi government’s ongoing efforts to realize the vision of its digital strategy and to build a robust, safe and business-friendly e-commerce ecosystem.
Minister of commerce Tipu Munshi received the assessment report accompanied by other senior government officials.
“The report provides useful insights that will guide us as we address remaining challenges and tap the unprecedented opportunities provided by e-commerce,” Mr. Munshi said.
The ICT sector is a natural fit in the country’s development goal to create jobs for the 110 million Bangladeshi under the age of 35, in a country of 160 million, according to the assessment report.
The ICT sector in Bangladesh has grown by 40% annually since 2010, thanks to public and private sector initiatives. This success is a case study in policy development, the report notes.
The government’s “Digital Bangladesh” initiative recognizes ICT as an engine of growth and seeks to foster sustainable development through effective use of modern technology.
Challenges to be tackled
The report identifies challenges that need to be addressed to ensure a better digital future, especially for the people living in rural areas, where connectivity and lack of skills hinder a truly inclusive digital development.
An estimated 65% of the population resides in rural areas, which poses significant hurdles for both providing government services to citizens as well as integration of the rural population with the cities.
Two out of three Bangladeshi live in areas that still lack internet connectivity and less than 4% of the people use 4G-capable devices.
Also, last-mile delivery challenges and security concerns make operations difficult in the remotest areas, pointing to the need for improvements in trade logistics.
Efforts to tackle these and other barriers to e-commerce development should be scaled up, the report recommends.
It calls for continued concerted action between public and private sectors, increased cooperation between development partners, effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and a resource mobilization strategy.
Ms. Sirimanne said the report’s recommendations need to be mainstreamed into national strategies and private sector initiatives to advance the digitalization of Bangladesh.
“We look forward to working closely with UNCTAD to implement the actions suggested in the report,” state minister of ICT, Zunaid Ahmed Palak, said.
“This report is just a beginning of many collaborations that lie ahead us. We want to create examples by converting suggestions into actions,” said Mostafizur Rahaman Sohel, convener of BASIS E-Commerce Alliance Bangladesh, an association of e-traders.
Helping countries develop right strategies
UNCTAD began the eTrade Readiness Assessments programme in 2017 to identify the challenges and opportunities associated with e-commerce and help countries put in place the right strategies and interventions.
Over the past three years, 18 assessment reports of least development countries (LDC) have been completed and another seven are ongoing.
UNCTAD has received several requests for similar assessments from non-LDCs where governments are keen to harness e-commerce for development.
The programme is funded by Germany, the Enhanced Integrated Framework and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation.