The Promise of Kurigram

Bhutan’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Kurigram, Bangladesh, has captured significant attention from regional media outlets. It has also become a buzzword in offices, with some Bhutanese confusing it with Kurizam. Given the pivotal nature of this partnership for both Bhutan and Bangladesh, it demands the spotlight it receives.

While many link the SEZ with the Gelephu Mindfulness City (GMC), it stands as a remedy to numerous challenges that Bhutanese economists and entrepreneurs have long lamented, such as connectivity issues, distance barriers, and the lack of entry and exit points; factors long highlighted as Bhutan’s inability to access markets, compete effectively, attract foreign direct investment (FDI), and foster innovation.

Acknowledging these concerns is not to discredit them. At the grassroots level, mandarin exporters, for instance, face legitimate hurdles due to the long distance to Dhaka, resulting in elevated transportation costs that undermine their competitiveness. Similar challenges confront potato and apple exporters.

Likewise, complaints from manufacturing industries about foreign investors’ reluctance to engage with Bhutan due to labor shortages or high labor costs hold merit.

Similarly, the issue of Bhutan’s labor market, still grappling with skill deficiencies, particularly in technology-related fields, despite the populace’s proficiency in English is true.

Moreover, Bhutan’s lack of rail and water connectivity, compounded by its landlocked status with limited airports, further exacerbates trade obstacles.

Enter Kurigram!

Can exporters now bemoan the arduous journey to Dhaka? Can the government and private sector continue citing labor shortages as a barrier to FDI, while people in Kurigram are already celebrating newfound employment opportunities? Will the government continue to chant the mantra of shortage of skills, when thousands of Bhutanese can be skilled and re-skilled in different industries that would come up in Kurigram?

And Kurigram has rail, water and air connectivity!

We understand the critical role of connectivity in driving modern trade and globalization, shaping economies’ competitiveness, efficiency, and resilience. Enhanced connectivity reduces transportation costs, transit times, and border delays, fostering affordability for consumers and bolstering profit margins for businesses engaged in international trade. Furthermore, the geographical proximity of trading partners fosters deeper economic integration and collaboration, spurring cross-border investments, joint ventures, and strategic partnerships.

While SEZs are not a panacea, they offer tangible solutions to longstanding challenges. By providing targeted incentives and infrastructure support, SEZs create conducive environments for business growth, job creation, and economic prosperity. In addition to connectivity, SEZs offer unique regulatory and economic incentives to attract domestic and foreign investment, stimulate economic growth, and boost exports. These zones serve as catalysts for industrialization, innovation, and job creation, offering a myriad of benefits to businesses and investors.

Kurizam, the lifeline bridge in Eastern Bhutan is very important. Similarly, the SEZ in Kurigram holds immense promise, offering solutions to many of the hurdles hindering Bhutan’s economic advancement. The pertinent question now is: will we seize this opportunity and propel ourselves forward, or will we remain stagnant, lamenting our circumstances? The answer lies in our collective determination to embrace change and capitalize on the opportunities that lie ahead.