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Bangladesh’s Foreign Debt Repayment Capacity Faces Growing Challenges

Bangladesh’s Foreign Debt Repayment Capacity Faces Growing Challenges

In the ever-evolving landscape of Bangladesh’s economic dynamics, recent years have borne witness to a notable and concerning phenomenon—a discernible deterioration in the nation’s foreign debt repayment capacity. Traditionally applauded for its punctual servicing of international debts, Bangladesh now finds itself at a critical juncture where the efficacy of its debt repayment mechanisms is under scrutiny. This shift has not gone unnoticed, sparking apprehension and discourse among economists and financial experts who are closely monitoring the unfolding scenario.

The underlying causes of this decline are multifaceted, weaving together various economic elements that have collectively contributed to this nuanced challenge. At the forefront is the dwindling level of foreign exchange reserves, once considered a robust buffer against external financial pressures. Simultaneously, there has been a perceptible shift in the borrowing landscape, with a growing reliance on short-term loans, further complicating the country’s financial obligations.

This article delves into the intricate web of factors that have led to the current state of Bangladesh’s foreign debt scenario, meticulously examining the implications and potential risks it poses to the overall economic stability of the nation. As we navigate through the data and analyses, a comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by Bangladesh in servicing its foreign debt will emerge, shedding light on the imperative need for strategic interventions and informed policy decisions to navigate these uncharted waters.

Historical Perspective:

Cast your gaze back to the fiscal year 2015-16, and Bangladesh stood as a testament to prudent financial management, showcasing a formidable foreign debt repayment capacity. During this period, the nation exhibited the capability to settle an impressive 74 percent of its foreign debt obligations using the ample reservoir of foreign currency reserves at its disposal. In quantitative terms, these reserves surpassed the $30 billion mark, constituting a robust 73.70 percent of the total foreign debt, pegged at $41.17 billion.

This era marked a time when Bangladesh garnered acclaim for its financial resilience, embodying a model of responsible debt servicing and economic fortitude. The comfortable ratio between reserves and foreign debt underscored the country’s ability to navigate the complexities of the international financial landscape.

However, the narrative takes a noteworthy turn as we fast forward to the fiscal year 2022-23. The once-impressive foreign debt repayment capacity has undergone a significant transformation, experiencing a stark reduction to a mere 24.80 percent. This palpable decline reflects the evolving economic landscape, unveiling challenges that have chipped away at the once-substantial cushion of reserves. The nation, once adept at covering the lion’s share of its foreign debt through reserves, now finds itself grappling with a diminished capacity, necessitating a closer examination of the factors contributing to this substantial decline.

Current Situation

As the curtains closed on the last financial year, Bangladesh found itself entangled in a complex economic scenario, marked by a precarious balance between burgeoning foreign debt and dwindling reserves. The total foreign debt, a staggering $98.94 billion, loomed over the nation, posing challenges to its financial stability. In tandem, the gross reserves, a critical safeguard against external economic shocks, had fallen to $31.20 billion, presenting a significant reduction in the financial armor that the country had once relied upon.

The opening chapters of the current financial year unfolded with a disconcerting tone, as the specter of mounting foreign debt haunted the economic landscape. By September, the foreign debt breached the ominous threshold of $100 billion, amplifying concerns and intensifying the pressure on the nation’s financial capabilities. However, the gravity of the situation was further accentuated by the abnormal depletion of reserves, a vital bulwark against economic uncertainties.

According to international standards, the gross reserves, which ostensibly should act as a bastion of financial security, were reported at a mere $19 billion. This stark contrast between the reported figures and the actual reserves underscores the severity of the challenges at hand. The usable net reserves, a more pragmatic measure of the financial resilience, stooped to less than $16 billion, emphasizing the urgent need for strategic interventions to restore equilibrium to the nation’s economic equation.

This nuanced and delicate economic scenario demands meticulous scrutiny and swift action. As Bangladesh grapples with the intricate interplay of foreign debt, reserves, and international economic standards, a comprehensive strategy becomes imperative to navigate these turbulent waters and steer the nation towards a path of sustainable economic recovery.

Short-Term Debt Repayment Pressure:

Within the corridors of Bangladesh Bank, an air of concern has permeated the financial landscape, as the specter of short-term foreign debt repayment pressure looms large. The private sector, navigating the tumultuous waters of the current fiscal year, found itself compelled to grapple with the weight of a substantial burden – a staggering $4.5 billion in short-term foreign debt. This formidable obligation places immense strain on the financial machinery of private enterprises, amplifying the complexities of debt management.

However, the challenges extend beyond the private sector’s ledger, as a comprehensive assessment of the economic horizon reveals a daunting landscape. When we factor in additional liabilities such as arrears stemming from oil prices, delayed Letters of Credit (LC) liabilities, and pending payments to foreign entities, the outstanding amount escalates to a formidable $20 billion. This confluence of financial obligations underscores the intricate web of interconnected liabilities that demand meticulous attention.

Officials from the central bank, cognizant of the gravity of the situation, have sounded a note of caution. Their warnings echo through the financial corridors, emphasizing that relying solely on the existing reserves may fall short in meeting these mounting liabilities. The calculus of financial prudence suggests that the current reserves may not suffice to alleviate the burgeoning short-term debt repayment pressure, accentuating the need for strategic interventions and carefully crafted financial policies.

As Bangladesh grapples with the intricacies of short-term debt dynamics, the imperative for collaborative efforts between financial institutions, policymakers, and private enterprises becomes increasingly evident. Navigating the intricate terrain of debt repayment obligations demands a strategic approach that not only ensures the financial solvency of private entities but also safeguards the broader economic stability of the nation. The challenges at hand underscore the need for proactive measures and astute financial management to steer the ship through these turbulent fiscal waters.

Economist’s Perspective:

In the cacophony of economic discourse surrounding Bangladesh’s current financial landscape, economists, including the distinguished Ahsan H Mansoor, the Executive Director of the Policy Research Institute (PRI), have emerged as heralds of caution. Their collective voice paints a sobering picture of the risks associated with the nation’s present economic position, urging a closer examination of the challenges at hand.

Ahsan H Mansoor, a seasoned economist, stands at the forefront of those expressing concern. As the Executive Director of PRI, Mansoor brings a wealth of experience and insight to the forefront of economic analysis. His assessment of Bangladesh’s current predicament is underscored by a fundamental imbalance – short-term foreign debt that surpasses the net reserves, creating a precarious equilibrium. In stark terms, Mansoor emphasizes the precariousness of the country’s financial situation, flagging potential pitfalls that demand immediate attention.

Crucially, Mansoor draws attention to the debt-to-income ratio, a key metric that reveals the strain on the country’s financial health. The warning bell rings loud as he articulates that this ratio has ascended to levels deemed perilous. To contextualize, Mansoor points to the government’s ability to repay debt, a task significantly hampered by the nation’s low tax-GDP ratio, hovering at a mere 8 percent. This revelation underscores a critical vulnerability in Bangladesh’s economic architecture, where the government’s capacity to generate income for debt servicing is considerably constrained.

As economists such as Ahsan H Mansoor highlight these concerns, their insights shed light on the urgent need for strategic economic reforms. The confluence of short-term debt challenges, strained tax-GDP ratios, and precarious debt-to-income ratios demands a recalibration of financial strategies and a concerted effort to fortify the nation’s economic foundations. Bangladesh stands at a critical juncture, and the economist’s perspective serves as a clarion call for proactive measures and prudent fiscal policies to mitigate potential risks and chart a course towards sustainable economic resilience.

Increasing Debt Burden:

Over the past decade, Bangladesh has seen a steady increase in foreign debt, with the majority accumulated in the last ten years. At the end of the fiscal year 2015-16, total foreign debt stood at $41.17 billion, constituting 15.5 percent of the country’s total GDP. By the end of the fiscal year 2022-23, the foreign debt position had escalated to $98.94 billion, representing a substantial increase and signaling potential challenges ahead.

Bangladesh’s Foreign Debt Escalation: A Closer Look at the Current Economic Scenario

In the intricate tapestry of Bangladesh’s economic landscape, the escalation of foreign debt has emerged as a central narrative, drawing attention to both unprecedented growth and the intricate challenges that accompany it. A comprehensive exploration of the current economic scenario unveils a multifaceted story that spans the realms of debt dynamics, international market forces, reserves management, and the broader consequences on the nation’s economic well-being.

1. Unprecedented Growth in Foreign Debt:

The saga of Bangladesh’s foreign debt unfolds as a tale of remarkable expansion, with the roots of this narrative firmly embedded in the aftermath of the fiscal year 2018. The turning point marked the commencement of an extraordinary surge, reshaping the contours of the nation’s economic landscape

As the curtains fell on the 2019-20 fiscal year, the magnitude of this surge became strikingly apparent, with foreign debt scaling unprecedented heights to reach a staggering $68.55 billion. This fiscal period served as the crucible where economic dynamics were reshaped, laying the foundation for the subsequent narrative of financial complexities.

Even in the face of a marginal slowdown in the subsequent fiscal year, 2020-21, the trajectory of foreign debt displayed unwavering resilience. Far from receding, the figures continued their ascent, culminating in a formidable total of $81.62 billion by the fiscal year’s conclusion. The persistent climb underscored the endurance of this growth trend, painting a portrait of a nation navigating uncharted territories in the realm of economic indebtedness.

This phase of unprecedented growth raises pivotal questions about the factors driving this surge and the consequential implications for the country’s economic stability. The subsequent sections of this narrative will delve deeper into the intricacies of this trajectory, unraveling the complexities that have led Bangladesh into a realm of heightened foreign debt, and the challenges and dynamics that accompany this fiscal evolution.

2. Acceleration in 2021-22:

The economic narrative of Bangladesh took a pronounced turn in the 2021-22 fiscal year, as the momentum of foreign debt expansion gathered formidable traction. This period witnessed a notable acceleration in the growth of foreign debt, registering a substantial uptick at 16.9%. The ramifications of this acceleration permeated through the economic landscape, signaling both challenges and complexities that demanded a closer examination.

As the fiscal year unfolded, the ominous $100 billion milestone, once a distant figure, was breached with an air of inevitability by September. This symbolic crossing marked a critical juncture in the nation’s economic trajectory, signifying not only the magnitude of foreign debt but also the mounting challenges that the country grappled with.

The acceleration in foreign debt during the 2021-22 fiscal year became emblematic of the evolving economic dynamics, necessitating a nuanced understanding of the contributing factors. The subsequent sections of this exploration will dissect the intricacies of this acceleration, shedding light on the forces propelling this surge and the implications it holds for Bangladesh’s economic resilience and stability. In dissecting the nuances of this period, a comprehensive understanding will emerge, facilitating a more informed discourse on the economic landscape shaped by this acceleration in foreign debt.

3. International Market Dynamics:

The intricate dance of global financial markets has woven a complex tapestry that significantly impacts Bangladesh’s economic landscape, particularly in the realm of debt management. The surge in global interest rates, akin to a seismic shift, has cast a profound and far-reaching shadow over the nation’s strategic approach to debt.

In navigating this evolving financial terrain, several Bangladeshi entities, both public and private, have responded with a tactical pivot toward short-term loans. This strategic maneuver, while potentially offering short-term relief, has concurrently become a contributing factor to the escalating foreign debt levels. The ramifications of this shift in borrowing patterns extend beyond the balance sheets, manifesting in heightened repayment pressures that reverberate through the corridors of economic decision-making.

The intersection of international market dynamics with Bangladesh’s debt management strategies illuminates the delicate balancing act required to navigate an environment marked by fluctuating interest rates. This section will unravel the layers of complexity surrounding these dynamics, offering insights into how the convergence of global financial trends and local economic imperatives shapes the trajectory of foreign debt in Bangladesh. As we delve deeper, a clearer understanding will emerge of the challenges posed by these market dynamics and the strategic considerations necessary for steering the nation through these turbulent waters.

4. Impact on Reserves:

The ebb and flow of Bangladesh’s economic fortunes, as reflected in its reserves, tell a tale of resilience and vulnerability. Historically, the trajectory of reserves exhibited robust growth until the year 2019, painting a picture of economic strength. However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic became a seismic event that triggered an abrupt and unforeseen shift in this narrative.

As the pandemic’s disruptive waves swept across the global economy, Bangladesh found itself navigating uncharted waters. Reserves, which stood at a peak of $48 billion in August 2021, became susceptible to the pandemic-induced uncertainties. The subsequent months bore witness to a relentless monthly average depletion of approximately $1 billion, underscoring the severe strain on the nation’s financial fortitude.

This section will delve into the multifaceted impact of the pandemic on Bangladesh’s reserves, dissecting the contributing factors and the subsequent repercussions. The intricate interplay between global events and local economic resilience will be explored to provide a comprehensive understanding of how external shocks can reverberate through a nation’s financial reserves, shaping its ability to weather economic storms. As we unravel the layers of this impact, a nuanced narrative will emerge, offering insights into the challenges posed by the volatile nature of reserves in the face of unforeseen global disruptions.

5. Exchange Rate Volatility:

The intricate dance of currencies on the global stage has manifested in a rapid and pronounced depreciation of Bangladesh’s local currency against the formidable US dollar. This unfolding scenario of exchange rate volatility has introduced a new dimension of complexity to the nation’s economic landscape, necessitating a closer examination of its far-reaching implications.

The timeline of this volatility reveals a stark narrative. In January of the previous year, the exchange rate witnessed a historic zenith, with banks selling each dollar at a record Tk 85.90. However, the subsequent months have borne witness to a relentless shift, and as of the present, the official rate stands at Tk 110.25. This stark contrast in a relatively short period underscores the dynamic nature of exchange rate movements, highlighting the vulnerability of local currencies to external market forces.

This section aims to dissect the layers of this exchange rate volatility, exploring the contributing factors, repercussions, and the broader implications for Bangladesh’s economic landscape. From the initial triggers to the current state of the exchange rate, a comprehensive understanding will emerge, shedding light on the challenges posed by such fluctuations and the adaptive strategies required for maintaining stability in the face of currency dynamics. As we navigate through this analysis, a clearer picture will emerge of how exchange rate volatility intersects with broader economic dynamics, shaping the contours of financial stability in Bangladesh.

6. Remittance Challenges:

In the intricate tapestry of Bangladesh’s economic challenges, the role of remittances stands as a pivotal thread, deeply woven into the fabric of the nation’s financial dynamics. Recent developments have witnessed money exchange houses in the Middle East assert their influence by elevating the selling rate of the dollar to Tk 124.90. This deliberate escalation has not only exerted additional pressure on Bangladesh’s foreign exchange market but has also set in motion a chain of events that reverberates through the country’s economic corridors.

As the exchange rate dynamics intertwine with remittance challenges, banks find themselves at the forefront of this financial maelstrom. Compelled by market forces and the elevated selling rates imposed by money exchange houses, banks have been forced to purchase remittances at rates that surpass the central bank’s official valuation. This disjunction between official rates and market realities introduces a layer of complexity, impacting not only the banking sector but casting a ripple effect on the overall economy.

This section will scrutinize the nuances of these remittance challenges, exploring the motivations behind the elevation of dollar selling rates, the consequential pressures on the foreign exchange market, and the cascading effects on banks and the broader economy. By navigating through these intricacies, a comprehensive understanding will emerge, shedding light on the interconnected challenges posed by remittances and their profound implications for Bangladesh’s economic resilience.

7. Economic Consequences:

In the labyrinth of economic challenges, the consequences of the unfolding scenarios are both intricate and far-reaching. The elevation of dollar selling rates, coupled with the pressures on the foreign exchange market, sets the stage for a series of economic tribulations that demand astute navigation.

While the central bank’s commendable initiatives aim to control inflation and manage the foreign exchange crisis, the multifaceted nature of the challenges requires a comprehensive strategy. This strategy must not only address immediate concerns but also lay the groundwork for sustained economic resilience. As this section unfolds, it will delve into the economic consequences of the current challenges, exploring the impact on inflation, trade balances, and overall economic stability. By dissecting these consequences, a roadmap for effective mitigation measures will emerge, guiding policymakers in their quest to navigate these turbulent economic waters.

8. Long-Term Sustainability Concerns:

Amidst the immediate challenges, economists cast a discerning eye on the horizon, expressing profound concerns about the long-term sustainability of Bangladesh’s debt burden. The soaring debt-to-GDP ratio, surpassing the ominous 400% mark, serves as a stark reminder of the pressing need for prudent fiscal policies.

This section will unravel the layers of these sustainability concerns, delving into the intricacies of the debt-to-GDP ratio and its implications for Bangladesh’s economic future. Economists argue for a recalibration of borrowing strategies, emphasizing the imperative to align debt levels with the country’s income-generating capacity. By exploring the root causes, potential consequences, and viable solutions, this analysis aims to provide a nuanced understanding of the sustainability challenges and chart a course towards a more resilient economic future for Bangladesh.


As Bangladesh grapples with the intricate dynamics of foreign debt, a clarion call emerges for careful monitoring and strategic interventions to ensure long-term economic stability. Addressing the challenges posed by exchange rate volatility, remittance dynamics, and escalating debt levels necessitates a holistic approach from policymakers and financial institutions to safeguard the nation’s economic future. In the crucible of these challenges lies the opportunity for resilience and innovation, signaling the imperative for a united effort to steer Bangladesh toward a path of sustainable economic prosperity.

Bangladesh is currently facing a critical juncture in its economic landscape, with a weakening foreign debt repayment capacity and growing concerns about the sustainability of its debt levels. The increasing reliance on short-term loans and a declining ratio of reserves to foreign debt pose significant challenges to the country’s economic stability. Addressing these issues requires strategic planning, effective fiscal policies, and measures to enhance revenue generation, ensuring a sustainable and resilient economic future for Bangladesh.

Billal Hossain
Billal Hossain
Billal Hossain, a seasoned professional with a Master's degree in Mathematics, has built a rich and varied career as a banker, economist, and anti-money laundering expert. His journey in the financial sector has seen him in leading roles, notably in AL-Rajhi Banking Inc. in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and as Foreign Relations and Correspondent Maintenance Officer of Bank-AL-Bilad. Beyond the confines of traditional finance, Billal has emerged as a prominent writer and commentator, contributing thought-provoking columns and theses to various newspapers and online portals. His expertise spans a wide range of important global issues, including the complexities of economics, political dynamics, the plight of migrant workers, remittances, reserves, and other interrelated aspects. Billal brings a unique analytical perspective to his writing, combining academic rigor with practical insights gained from his banking career. His articles not only demonstrate a deep understanding of complex issues but also provide readers with informed perspectives, bridging the gap between theory and real-world application. Billal Hossain's contributions stand as a testament to his commitment to unraveling the complexities of our interconnected world, providing valuable insights that contribute to a broader and more nuanced understanding of the global economic landscape.


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