Bangladesh has maintained an impressive track record on growth and development. In the past decade, the economy has grown at nearly 6 percent per year, and human development went hand-in-hand with economic growth. Poverty dropped by nearly a third, coupled with increased life expectancy, literacy, and per capita food intake. More than 15 million Bangladeshis have moved out of poverty since 1992.
While poverty reduction in both urban and rural areas has been remarkable, the absolute number of people living below the poverty line remains significant. Despite the strong track record, around 47 million people are still below the poverty line, and improving access to quality services for this vulnerable group is a priority. There are also many people who could fall back into poverty if they lose their jobs or are affected by natural disasters.
With nearly 150 million inhabitants on a landmass of 147,570 square kilometers, Bangladesh is among the most densely populated countries in the world. Sustained growth in recent years has generated higher demand for electricity, transport, and telecommunication services, and contributed to widening infrastructure deficits. While the population growth rate has declined, the labor force is growing rapidly. This can be turned into a significant demographic dividend in the coming years, if more and better jobs can be created for the growing number of job-seekers. Moreover, improving labor force participation and productivity will help to release the potential of the economy. Exploiting the potential of regional cooperation and making trade policy more conducive to a deepening and diversification of exports will also play a vital role in the growth process.
Bangladesh aspires to be a middle-income country by 2021. This will require increasing GDP growth to 7.5 to 8 percent per year based on accelerated export and remittance growth. Both public and private investment will need to increase as well. Growth will also need to be more inclusive through creation of productive employment opportunities in the domestic economy. To sustain accelerated and inclusive growth, Bangladesh will need to manage the urbanization process more effectively, as well as prepare for adaptation to climate change impacts.
Becoming a middle-income country will require substantial efforts on many fronts. These include maintaining macroeconomic stability; strengthening revenue mobilization; tackling energy and infrastructure deficits; deepening financial-sector and external trade reforms; improving labor skills, economic governance, and urban management; and adapting to climate change. Bangladesh can become an export powerhouse, with its labor-intensive manufactured and service exports growing at double digits on a sustained basis, if it speeds up government decision-making. Without timely action, other countries (such as Vietnam and Myanmar) will take the markets being vacated by China.