Bangladesh sets foundations for bridge over digital divide

01 April 2019

Bangladesh is poised to benefit from an e-commerce boost after laying an "exemplary" digital foundation, an UNCTAD report finds.

Bangladesh stands to capitalize on smart improvements it’s made to bolster e-commerce-friendly infrastructure – provided it can deliver a strategy and better logistics.

It’s a nation that understands flow. With over 700 rivers, Bangladesh is home to the largest delta on earth. Soon, though, it may be the flow of information and goods, driven by e-commerce, which fills the Bangladeshi cup.

This was the conclusion of a new UNCTAD report on Bangladesh’s readiness to conduct electronic trade, presented to government representatives during an event on the opening day of UNCTAD’s eCommerce Week 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland on 1 April.


The Rapid eTrade Readiness Assessment found the South Asian nation has laid an essential foundation for a technology-driven and skill-based digital economy, but still needs to introduce a comprehensive national e-commerce strategy and improve delivery logistics.

“All commercial activities are going to be digital, and all current business laws, regulations and policies are to be made compatible with the digital commerce revolution,” Bangladesh’s minister of post, telecommunication and information technology, Mustafa Jabbar said as he received the assessment.

Completed by UNCTAD at the request of the Bangladeshi government, the assessment pinpoints crucial improvements that will help the nation deliver on its ecommerce hopes.

These include advances in telecommunications infrastructure, trade logistics, payment solutions, laws and regulations, skills development, and financing, that can accelerate e-commerce and spread the benefits throughout the economy.

“It is fantastic to see the great strides that Bangladesh has taken to prepare for a digital future,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, director of UNCTAD’s division on technology and logistics.

“This e-Trade Readiness Assessment also recognizes that there are growth and employment gains yet to be made by a comprehensive pivot to e-commerce.”

Digital gains and gaps

The report found the Bangladeshi government had supported public-private dialogue and collaboration in digitalization matters “in an exemplary manner”.

Its Digital Bangladesh initiative led the way.

Part of the country’s Vision 2021 national development plan, it is supported by the A2I initiative currently led by the information and communication technology (ICT) division of Mr. Jabbar’s ministry.

A2I is an umbrella initiative that has shepherded growth in the ICT sector and the overall digital economy ecosystem of the country.

The Digital Bangladesh initiative not only looks to transform the country into a modern, knowledge-based society by 2021, but also establish the South Asian nation as the world’s next ICT destination.

Since its inception in 2010, the ICT sector in Bangladesh has grown at an average pace of 40% a year – a remarkable achievement.

The tech sector is also a fit for the 110 million young Bangladeshis who, in a nation of 160 million, need jobs and skills for the future.

With 65% of Bangladesh’s people living in rural areas, connectivity also remains a priority issue.

The report says support for e-commerce in a comprehensive national strategy would help increase the public’s confidence in e-commerce, and address the digital divide between urban and rural areas.

To do so it would need to recognize all barriers to business from “an ecosystem perspective”.

Improvements in trade logistics, such as better postal services and secure payment modes, are also required, it says.

Ready to rumble

Since the launch of the Rapid eTrade Readiness programme in 2016, UNCTAD has undertaken 17 assessments of developing countries.

These include: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Liberia, Madagascar, Myanmar, Nepal, Samoa, Senegal, Solomon Islands, Togo, Uganda, Vanuatu, and Zambia.

Both Bangladesh and Afghanistan were formally presented with their Rapid eTrade Readiness Assessments at the fifth edition of eCommerce Week – a high-profile global gathering of e-commerce players, taking place from 1 to 5 April.

The event’s theme aligns the real issues discussed in the assessments, tackling the challenges and opportunities countries experience as they embrace digitalization and prioritize development gains.  

With the support of key donors – Germany, the Enhanced Integrated Frameworks and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation - eight additional developing countries will conduct eTrade readiness assessments in 2019.

The eTrade for all initiative, a multi-stakeholder partnership that helps developing countries find information and resources on e-commerce and the digital economy, supports the preparation of the assessments.