Outgoing president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) Sheikh Fazle Fahim discusses the highlights, achievements, and challenges of his tenure in an interview with Dhaka Tribune's Zisan Bin Liaquat
Your tenure started with a manifesto — have you been able to keep up with that?
In the election manifesto, we vowed to make FBCCI a stronger institutional entity that would facilitate trade and investment, enable significant development within the business ecosystem of the nation, and highlight Bangladesh’s business in the international market.
Following up on our promise, FBCCI has been enabling memoranda of understanding (MoUs) between Bangladesh’s private sector associations and its counterparts across continents from Asia to Africa.
Global ties with 129 strategic partners and 51 international bodies and chambers have been continuously engaged to facilitate businesses and trade.
Aligned with Vision 2041, the FBCCI board had also launched FBCCI Impact 4.0. Under this, Tech C was launched to create Impact Tech-Preneur for enabling technology to strengthen micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), start-ups, and large organizations by leveraging innovations across economic sectors in Bangladesh to be part of a global value chain ecosystem with indigenous synergies.
To train start-ups, FBCCI has also entered into agreements with international educational institutions.
The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Centre, which started operating in January 2020, was initiated for catering to the resolution of national and international commercial disputes at nominal cost with a targeted lead time of three months. The first hearing of the FBCCI ADR Centre took place in August 2020.
The FBCCI Economic and Applied Policy Research Centre was established to incorporate strong data analytics on sectorial scans for stakeholders to make informed and realistic decisions.
FBCCI has also successfully obtained approval of the FBCCI Institute from the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB), aimed to address the industry-academia gap. The institute will have global advisory members from our knowledge partners for quality assurance, updated curriculums, and joint certifications.
What would be the highlight of your tenure as the FBCCI president?
As a representative of FBCCI and Bangladesh, I was made the chairman of D-8 Chamber of Commerce and Industries (D8CCI) for development cooperation among Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Turkey.
This marked the beginning of Bangladesh’s presidency over the D8CCI for the first time.
I have also been elected as the vice president of the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry and re-elected as Confederation of Asia-Pacific Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CACCI) vice-president.
Moments like these — upholding the image of my country in the global arena — have been the highlight of my tenure.
How has FBCCI handled its very first and only pandemic?
Encountering its very first and only pandemic in the history of the association and the nation, FBCCI carried out multiple CSR initiatives and policy advocacy to keep the economy running.
FBCCI worked with the Finance Ministry and Bangladesh Bank to facilitate smooth implementation of the stimulus packages, simplify the loan receiving procedures for cottage, micro, small and medium enterprises (CMSMEs), and ensure disbursement of funds within the minimum lead time.
Its exhaustive advocacies helped in the distribution of the government’s stimulus package to MSMEs and reduced financial strains, in terms of VAT and tax, on businesses as well as individuals.
Forming sector-wise councils, the association ensured the disbursement of relief, aid, loans, and other support.
To ensure the health safety of workers and sustenance of business across sectors, the trade body helped formulate the Covid 19 FBCCI Health Advisory Protocols for commercial offices and adopted a national strategy for supply chain security, recalibrating unproductive costs, miscellaneous costs, and time-sensitive projects.
To help businesses sustain the pandemic shock, FBCCI advocated the Ministry of Finance to update the VAT and SD Law 2012, allowing monthly returns without any penalty or interest.
FBCCI’s proposals were reflected in some major issues of the National Budget 2019-20: advance income tax (AIT) was reduced to 2% for some specific products; advance tax (AT) on industrial raw materials was reduced from 5% to 4%; limit of personal tax-free income increased from Tk2.5 lakh to Tk3 lakh, and corporate tax for non-listed companies reduced from 35% to 32.5%.
Why does FBCCI want a bank of its own in a saturated market with high default loans?
Many small and medium entrepreneurs do not get bank loans failing to meet collateral requirements. Conventional banks in Bangladesh, mostly owned by business owners, do not disburse unsecured loans. That is why many small and marginal entrepreneurs do not get bank loans.
The FBCCI wants to set up a virtual bank of its own to disburse unsecured mortgage-free loans to small and medium entrepreneurs.
We have also proposed to set up a microfinance institute to disburse microcredit to new marginal and micro-level entrepreneurs on easy terms and facilitate various types of insurance for traders.
Unsecured loans that the bank will disburse will be insured. We also want to establish an insurance company to provide other types of insurance required for business.
Going forward, what would be some of the biggest challenges for Bangladesh? Has FBCCI initiated any effective counter-measures?
Two of the biggest challenges that Bangladesh will face in the coming days are the need for a skilled labour force and the LDC graduation.
With the 4th Industrial revolution (4IR), businesses and their operations are continuously being automated or digitized, increasing the chance of machines replacing human jobs.
The global labour market is increasingly adopting new technology. New technology makes it easier for companies to automate routine tasks and could disrupt the balance between job responsibilities completed by humans and those completed by machines and algorithms. With smart technology becoming more mainstream, we need to consider the impact using these new technologies will have on our society and workforce.
Transformations and disruptions are already occurring within labour markets across the world. Over the last 20 years, the use of new technology has caused some roles to disappear while also creating new, previously unheard-of job titles.
So, Bangladesh needs to focus on skilled labour creation.
In terms of LDC graduation, by now we all know that Bangladesh will be losing some trade privileges in the global scenario. Over the last two years, FBCCI, with an unprecedented level of engagement with international stakeholders, solicited a targeted roadmap to recovery in a broad spectrum of socio-economic agenda through Bi-lateral Value Chain Initiative (BVCI), knowledge-resource sharing scopes, and free trade agreements (FTAs), which would help facilitate and sustain economic growth post-LDC graduation.
FBCCI has been actively engaging with WTO, ILO, and other relevant bodies to facilitate the continued incentivized benefits that Bangladesh currently enjoys to ensure a sustainable LDC graduation.