As Bangladesh has long stepped onto the road of graduation from the least developed country (LDC) status, a vital prerequisite for it is technological self-sufficiency. The technological skills and innovations of developed nations can help the country attain that goal. That the concept of ‘technology transfer’ has become a buzzword in the area of economic and the multi-faceted development doesn’t need much elaboration. Economists suggest that attention should be given to signing deals on transfer of technology, while reaching agreements on technical assistance with contracting parties. Lately, in a policy paper to the WTO, the Ministry of Commerce has pointed out how Bangladesh remained ill-equipped in the vital area of technology transfer from advanced countries. Against this backdrop, a spectacular spurt in digital technology has lately occurred in Bangladesh for embracing technical know-how from Chinese assistance and investments. The formal technology transfer, however, remains below expectation due to skill deficiency.
Chinese investments often include training programmes for local workers and professionals helping transfer of technical skills and knowledge, investment promoters say. They also point out the inadequacies in the process. Apparel export at competitive prices, digitisation of payment systems, expansion of mobile technology; light engineering along with construction of mega infrastructure projects have been largely launched using Chinese technology in Bangladesh. The fruits of the projects continue to come to the fore. The mega projects are dominated by Padma Bridge, Karnafuli Tunnel and Payra Power Plant, the involvement in which keeps helping local engineers and workers get hands-on experience from Chinese contractors. It is not the public sector only, technology transfer from China has also benefited the private sector. The managing director of an apparel manufacturing company notes RMG exporters usually sign contracts with a Chinese company keeping provisions for training before taking technical assistance or buying advanced machinery.
While focused on technology transfer, Bangladesh cannot afford to forget the radically changing times in which it wants to thrive. Accordingly, though the country has limitations at the recipient’s end in some sectors, the ‘second-latest’ digital economy has expedited adoption of new technology in various sectors in a bid to help the country in its preparation for the fourth industrial revolution or 4IR-driven artificial intelligence. It’s worth mentioning that an official at Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) finds dearth of skilled manpower the major barrier for Bangladesh to exploit the opportunities of technology transfer and artificial intelligence; and adopt the skills to meet the challenges of the coming ‘industrial revolution’.
It’s encouraging to see that Bangladesh has adopted capacity to assemble mobile phones, establish and operate green apparel factories quite successfully. The chief technical officer of a major Chinese mobile technology company has noted that said in 2023 they have brought newer smart technologies to make Bangladesh connected to an intelligent world. BIDA data show that at least fifteen Chinese companies brought direct investments to Bangladesh last year. Amid these upbeat prospects, industry insiders lament Bangladesh’s poor preparedness to absorb technology coming from foreign contractors. A valuable observation has been made by Mirza Azizul Islam, former finance adviser and economist. He says strategic planning, advanced infrastructure and willingness and efficiency of the bureaucratic system are imperatives for reaping benefits of tech-transfer offered by foreign investors or contractors. Bangladesh Bank data, however, show the country’s yearly growth of FDI from China stood at 13.5 per cent. The country witnessed an increase in Chinese investment by 11.5 times in the last seven years. In a mutually dependent world, countries cannot go alone when it comes to using open technology. Turning to the advanced nations by the lagging ones is now the global rule.