COMPETITION is the ruling norm and the other name of international trade. It is competition in quality, price and in delivery. Unless a nation has gained the ability to meet all these three elements of competition, its plan to use export as the engine of growth is bound to fail utterly. It is critical for Bangladesh to attain this ability as the country is handicapped by widespread poverty and the resultant scanty purchasing power of its people and limited state revenue to extensively engage the three other engines of growth -- consumers' spending, investment and government spending, to sustain and invigorate economic development. Even for the ready-made garments, which account for the lion's share of the export earning, the hey days have gone with the expiry of the quota system that guaranteed market access without having to care much about satisfying all the elements of competition.
Exporters are now virtually crying for prompt measures to shorten the lead-time -- the time-gap between the receipt of an export order and the delivery of ordered products -- as, being the wearer, each of them knows where the shoe pinches. Obviously, business is paradoxical. One does business at one's own initiative for profit, but the success in it depends entirely on the satisfaction of customers. It is more so in international trade, which grants no opportunity for market manipulation unless producers are a small group united in a cartel to dictate terms in the market. But, unlike such producers, Bangladesh does not trade in products, which are non-renewable and available in scanty quantities or require some genius to manufacture them. None of her export items until now, whether manufactured goods, agro-product or basic raw-material, is either keenly sought after or distinct for rare availability for customers in the world market to wait for. It is only its ability to compete that decides its fate there.
The compulsion of the cascading tide of global competition dictates for improving the efficiency of the country's main port -- rather the only workable port, at Chittagong, long loathed for sloth. A group, aided by some trade union activists representing the vested interests and not the genuine workers, has begun to resist the move for privatising the operation and management of the under-construction New Mooring Container Terminal (NCT) of the port, meant for raising its efficiency in handling cargo. Should they receive public support and succeed? They have invoked national security as a matter of concern to justify their stand. But, in today's world, economic failure resulting from mismanagement of nation states constitutes the gravest security threats. Examples are plenty in Africa. The move for privatising the operation and management of the NCT is a response to the growing need for trade facilitation and prompted by the evident failure of conventional port management to rise up to serve this need with unquestionable efficiency. Aborting the move will therefore, be nothing less than a malignant act of injuring the national interest.
The Chittagong Port must attune itself to the growing need to handle cargo most efficiently. This country will pay dearly in terms of export market loss and hardly progress with the export engine of growth slowed if the move for privatising the operation and management of the NCT is resisted. However, the contract for privatising the operation and management of the NCT must not be foolishly or over-intelligently crafted influenced by anything, nor should it be given to unworthy fellows so that the nation does not have to regret it later. In this context, this paper shares some of the concerns of those who are sceptical about the outcome of privatisation of operation and management of the NCT through an international tender for reasons of any shoddy deal. But it must also be admitted that the move for privatising the NCT has been necessitated by the nation's collective failure to guard against misdoings by all those who have been directly or indirectly involved in port management and those who gatecrashed their way displaying muscles to influence or hamper port activities. Make hay while the sun shines.