Bangladesh's "India Out" movement gaining momentum amid global recession

Bangladesh’s “India Out” movement gaining momentum amid global recession

Foreign Affairs
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Decoding Bangladesh’s “India Out” movement and resilience strategies amid a looming global recession.

Recently, Bangladesh has found itself at the intersection of economic challenges, grappling with a dollar crisis and a global economic meltdown. Against this backdrop, the “India Out” movement has gained momentum, advocating for reduced dependence on Indian imports. This movement, coupled with the success of the “Boycott Indian Products” campaign, reflects a growing sentiment in Bangladesh to foster economic self-sufficiency. As we delve into the intricacies of these economic dynamics, it is essential to consider the facts and figures that underpin Bangladesh’s current predicament concerning India.

The trade imbalance between India and Bangladesh continues to be a central concern, as it leans significantly in favour of India. In 2022, approximately US$13.83bn worth of goods were exported from India to Bangladesh, as reported by the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade. Bangladesh faces challenges in accessing the Indian market, with its products often subjected to high taxes or outright bans. This restrictive environment resulted in only around $1.72bn worth of exports from Bangladesh to India in 2021.

India’s approach towards Bangladesh has been marked by controversial policies, exemplified by initiatives such as the Farakka Barrage and the proposed Tipaimukh dam. These projects raise concerns about the violation of international laws, as they are undertaken without the downstream nation’s consent and have the potential to inflict environmental damage. The Farakka Barrage—dubbed the “Barrage of death” for Bangladesh—serves as a poignant example of India’s unilateral decisions affecting its neighbour’s water resources. The proposed Tipaimukh dam is anticipated to follow a similar trajectory, holding significantly more water during crucial months for Bangladesh’s agriculture and fisheries.

Additionally, the continuous border killings of Bangladeshi citizens by Indian border guards, along with allegations of aiding illegal immigrants, involvement in armed dacoity, counterfeit money transfers, and illegal drug trades by individuals from both nations, contribute to the strain in bilateral relations. These issues underscore the complex challenges faced in maintaining a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship between Bangladesh and India.

These various challenges contribute to the apprehension regarding India’s influence and suspicions about its intentions concerning Bangladesh’s domestic markets. Speculation has arisen regarding India’s interference in Bangladeshi domestic political affairs. These factors further intensify the momentum behind the “India Out” movement, aligning with the resistance seen in countries like Maldives and Sri Lanka against India’s endeavours to establish hegemony in the South Asian region.

The dollar crisis and global recession

At the heart of Bangladesh’s economic concerns lies a persistent dollar crisis. The country faces an imbalance between imports and exports, with a dwindling flow of dollars affecting its ability to meet international trade obligations. Recent figures indicate a decline in the export of crucial goods, particularly in the garment sector, which has been a key contributor to Bangladesh’s foreign exchange earnings.

According to recent reports, the garment sector, accounting for a substantial portion of Bangladesh’s exports, has witnessed a 25% decrease in its exports to the US. This sharp decline underscores the vulnerability of Bangladesh’s economy to global economic downturns, especially in major export destinations.

Adding to Bangladesh’s economic challenges is the official announcement that the UK is entering a recession. The UK stands as one of Bangladesh’s top export destinations, alongside the US. The repercussions of the UK’s economic downturn are expected to reverberate through Bangladesh’s economy, affecting its balance of payments and potentially leading to a decreased inflow of dollars.

Figures released by mainstream media like CNN indicate that the UK has fallen into a recession, with its GDP experiencing its worst performance in years. This economic downturn in major export destinations amplifies the hurdles faced by Bangladeshi exporters and accentuates the need for strategic economic management.

Figure 1: Bangladesh’s top 12 export destinations. Source: RMGBD.net

The interconnected nature of global economies means that economic downturns in key export destinations have a direct impact on Bangladesh’s balance of payments. As the demand for Bangladeshi products decreases in recession-hit markets, the flow of dollars into the country can be significantly affected. This, in turn, poses challenges in meeting payment obligations and maintaining economic stability.

It is crucial to recognise the intricate web of economic relationships that dictate Bangladesh’s economic landscape. The country’s heavy reliance on a few key export destinations makes it susceptible to the ebb and flow of global economic trends.

The “India Out” movement and the “Boycott Indian Products” campaign

Amid these economic challenges, the “India Out” movement has emerged as a response to the need for economic self-sufficiency. The movement advocates for reducing imports from India and encourages the local production of goods that were previously sourced from India. This shift aims to decrease Bangladesh’s dependency on foreign goods and, in turn, reduce the demand for dollars.

Figures on Bangladesh’s trade with India reveal the scale of economic interdependence between the two nations. The trade balance tips in favour of India, with Bangladesh importing goods worth billions of dollars annually. The “India Out” movement seeks to address this trade imbalance and foster domestic production.

Figure 2: Bangladesh’s shares in India’s total imports and exports (1990-2015). Source: conscientiabeam.com

Complementing the “India Out” movement is the “Boycott Indian Products” campaign, which urges consumers to refrain from purchasing Indian goods. The success of this campaign relies on altering consumer behaviour and promoting the consumption of locally produced alternatives. By doing so, Bangladesh aims to stimulate its domestic industries, reduce imports, and alleviate the pressure on its foreign exchange reserves.

Strategic economic management

While the “India Out” movement and the “Boycott Indian Products” campaign reflect a grassroots desire for economic autonomy, strategic economic management is crucial to navigating the current challenges effectively. Bangladesh must address the root causes of the dollar crisis and explore avenues for diversifying its export markets.

Figures from past years highlight the persistent shortage of dollars, impacting essential imports such as fuel. This shortage poses a threat to the functioning of Bangladesh’s industries, hindering economic growth. A multifaceted approach is required, combining domestic production initiatives with diplomatic efforts to explore new export markets.

Moreover, the once positive aspect of Bangladesh’s robust export industry, reflected in its rapidly growing national reserves, is now facing a concerning trend toward depletion. This decline can be attributed to various factors, such as economic downturns, reduced demand in key export markets, and challenges in the garment sector. Additionally, the reliance on debt financing has added to the strain on the national reserves. In navigating these challenges, careful and strategic management of the national reserves becomes imperative for ensuring sustainable growth in the Bangladeshi economy. This calls for a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes of the decline while formulating effective strategies to enhance the country’s economic resilience.

Figure 3: Bangladesh reserves fall to $23.5 billion after debt financing. Source: TBSNews.net

In conclusion, Bangladesh finds itself at a critical juncture, navigating economic challenges exacerbated by a global recession and a dollar crisis. The “India Out” movement and the “Boycott Indian Products” campaign represent grassroots efforts to foster economic self-sufficiency. However, addressing the root causes of the dollar crisis and diversifying export markets are essential for long-term resilience.

Figures and facts underscore the urgency of strategic economic management. Bangladesh’s reliance on a few key export destinations amplifies the impact of global economic downturns. The government must formulate and implement policies that promote domestic production, enhance economic resilience, and pave the way for a sustainable and self-reliant future.

MSc in International Management, University of Exeter (2019). Specialised focus on Political Economy, Development in the Global South, and the Gulf region. BA in International Business and International Relations (Dual Honours at Keele University, 2018) with Interests in International affairs, history and economics. Editor and founder of qutnyti.wordpress.com

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