What the papers say

The Agro-Based Economy

A weekly round up of articles about employment, the labour market, skills training and workforce development. This week’s round up is drawn from The Daily Star. Here is the news for the week ending 4th March 2021.

This Week in the Bangladesh English News…

…Jute prices continue to climb, with consequences. The government revised the development budget with a boost to the rural economy. Remittances and migrant workers make headlines. And in step one of three, Bangladesh is approved for LDC graduation.

Education and Labour Market

Remittances in the first eight months of the fiscal year totaled some $17 billion and were up nearly 34 percent in a year-on-year comparison. Monthly remittances peaked in October, although sums still remain higher than those last year. Bangladesh Bank officials speculated numerous reasons such as migrant workers sending back to support family members; migrant workers sending back all of their assets after losing their jobs; and a halt to the “hundi system”, an illegal cross-border money transfer system that has slowed due to restricted movements during the pandemic.

Some 55 Bangladeshis in Algeria say they have been told they were “bought” and are being exploited. In a video to the Daily Star, workers said, “Rescue us from this place, please, we entreat the government.” The workers, lured by the promise of a job and the possibility of passage to Spain, paid a recruiting agency in Bangladesh, who then outsourced the workers to a second recruiting agency. The Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) has arrested three people associated with these agencies, although one agency reportedly remains operational under a new name. Brac Migration Programme’s head Shariful Hasan said, “We had even officially sent letters to the ministry in 2019 saying that workers are being recruited for Algeria, for the purpose of being sent to Spain, … these were sent to the Bangladesh Embassy in Algeria, which in turn wrote to the Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister, and to the Director-General of the Wage Earner’s Welfare Board.”

Meanwhile, 148 migrant workers returned to Bangladesh from Libya this week with the help of International Organisation for Migration. Many left the civil-war torn country due to insufficient employment opportunities. One worker said he had been unemployed in Libya since the end of 2019. Several workers reported working with informal brokers to get to Libya, and in some cases traffickers tried to sell them passage to Europe.

Financial Services

The Foreign Investors’ Chamber of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) requested a reduced corporate tax rate for companies not listed on the Bangladesh Stock Exchange – the corporate tax rate is currently 32.5 percent for unlisted firms and 25 percent for listed firms. The FCCI made the request for the 25 percent tax rate in a meeting with the National Board of Revenue.

The government is replacing some traditional food aid with cash. One instance is the Food for Work programmes; those who are repairing roads, drains, and culvert are scheduled to receive cash until the end of the fiscal year. This is happening as the food reserve is dwindling – the reserve was 17 lakh tonnes in 2019; 12 lakh tonnes in 2020; and is currently 6 lakh tonnes. The government increased food distribution during the pandemic but failed to meet its food procurement goal because farmers and millers opted not to sell to the government as market prices were soaring.

Business, Investments, Trade and Growth

After forty-five years, Bangladesh has qualified for graduation from Least Developed Country (LDC) status. The United Nations Committee for Development Policy (UN CDP) recommended graduation after reviewing the three eligibility criteria: per capita income, human assets index and economic vulnerability index. However, before the official graduation, the UN Economic Social Council must endorse the recommendation in June, and the UN General Assembly must approve it to finalize the measure in September. Meanwhile, the UNCDP said LDC trade benefits accorded to Bangladesh should continue for five years, not the usual three, due to the economic impacts of Covid-19. Experts discussed the impacts and challenges of graduating from LDC status with the Daily Star. 

This year’s development budget, which goes by the name the Annual Development Programme (ADP), was revised. The largest cuts were to foreign funded projects, as opposed to local funding. The highest raises went to the government division for the purpose of boosting the rural economy and the health services division. Although the highest allocations remain with the local government division and the road, transport and highways division. A total of 1,785 projects are included in the ADP, and 442 projects are scheduled to be completed this year. The prime minister has stated that project deadlines should not be extended.

Agriculture and Growth

Agriculture Minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque said he has doubts concerning the reliability of production statistics concerning rice and potatoes because prices went up despite estimates of higher yields. “It appears to me that the data on the production of crops, acreage and per acre yield is incorrect,” he said. He suggested statisticians with the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics should review their methods.

Some jute mills are running below capacity, and 40 have ceased all operations because of the record high price of jute. During the harvest season in July-August last year, prices began rising due to speculation that the flooding and unfavorable weather would decrease yield; prices reached Tk 3,000 per maund in September and topped Tk 6,000 per per maund last week.

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