Bangladesh Sets For e-Commerce

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The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says Bangladesh has laid down an exemplary digital foundation and is striving to prepare her citizens for the digital future. The country’s readiness to engage in e-commerce has shown in an UNCTAD assessment.

The enormous growth in her information and communications technology (ICT) sector and its young, dynamic and IT savvy population can only make things better, the assessment report indicates.

UNCTAD’s Director of Technology and Logistics, Shamika N. Sirimanne, said “Bangladesh is fertile ground for e-commerce to take root and benefit companies and consumers alike’’ while launching the assessment report in Dhaka last week.

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,’’ he 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 sector has grown by 40 per cent 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 recognises ICT as an engine of growth and seeks to foster sustainable development through effective use of modern technology.

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 per cent 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 four percent 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 mobilisation strategy.

As Sirimanne said the report’s recommendations need to be mainstreamed into national strategies and private sector initiatives to advance the digitalization of Bangladesh, state Minister of ICT, Zunaid Ahmed Palak, said “We look forward to working closely with UNCTAD to implement the actions suggested in the report.’’

Convener of BASIS E-Commerce Alliance Bangladesh, an association of e-traders, Mostafizur Rahaman Sohel, said “This report is just a beginning of many collaborations that lie ahead us. We want to create examples by converting suggestions into actions.’’

UNCTAD began the e-Trade 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, and 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.