Special Correspondent:Bangladesh’s exports to SAARC countries have grown by 88 per cent over last few years even as experts believe there’s more opportunities for Bangladesh to exploit, after all this sub-region is now home to nearly 2.0 billion people.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC is an economic and political organisation of eight countries in South Asia and was established in 1985 when the heads of state of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka formally adopted the charter even as Afghanistan joined as the eighth member of the SAARC in 2007.
The main aims of the SAARC is to promote economic growth, social progress and cultural development within the South Asia region with its objectives as defined in its charter as to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and improve their quality of life; accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region by providing all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and realise their full potential; promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia; contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems; promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields; strengthen co-operation with other developing countries; strengthen cooperation among themselves in international forms on matters of common interest; and cooperate with international and regional organisation with similar aims and purposes.
The nations of this alliance, of late, are emerging as major export destinations for Bangladesh, led by India, which so far bypasses the six other countries to emerge as the single largest export destination amongst the SAARC nations for ‘Made in Bangladesh’ products.
Meanwhile, as per analysts, the country’s (Bangladesh’s) export to the SAARC countries has increased by a massive 88 per cent in the last five years even as they claimed the growth of Bangladeshi exports to this sub-regional block to be much higher than the Bangladesh’s overall export earnings growth from across the globe.
According to the country’s Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), Bangladesh’s export to the SAARC nations ballooned to US $ 1.49 billion in FY 2020-21, up by 88.03 per cent from what was US $ 797.69 million five years back in FY 2016 even if due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bangladesh’s earnings from exports to the South Asian nations reportedly took a hit in FY 2020 before reviving in FY 2021, when Bangladesh’s earnings from export to SAARC countries reached US $ 1.49 billion, as per the EPB data. Further as per the EPB data, India’s import of Bangladeshi goods crossed the US $ 1 billion mark for the first time in FY 2019 even as Bangladesh exported goods worth US $ 1.28 billion to India in FY 2021 – as a Least Developed Country (LDC), Bangladesh enjoys duty-free quota-free (DFQF) access for nearly 94.1 per cent of its export items – even as Bangladesh made shipment of different goods worth US $ 82.71 million to Pakistan, US $ 68.66 million to Nepal, and US $ 47.32 million to Sri Lanka in FY 2021. It also exported goods worth US $ 8.64 million to Afghanistan, US $ 6.89 million to Bhutan, and US $ 6.02 million to the Maldives in the just-concluded fiscal year even if among the export items, the apparel sector was the dominant one, earning more than US $ 500 million from Indian market alone.
As far as Bhutan is concerned, it became the first country Bangladesh has signed a preferential trade agreement with since independence in 1971 after Bangladesh Commerce Minister TipuMunshi and Bhutanese Economic Affairs Minister LyonpoLoknath Sharma signed the agreement on behalf of their respective sides last year, which was witnessed by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Bhutanese counterpart LotayTshering virtually.
After the signing of the FTA, around 100 Bangladeshi products were supposed to get duty-free access to Bhutan, which include baby clothes and clothing accessories, men’s trousers and shorts, jackets and blazers, jute and jute goods, leather and leather goods apart from other products even as 34 Bhutanese products will also get duty-free access to the Bangladeshi market while both countries will be able to increase the number of items gradually through consultation.
It may be mentioned here that the bilateral trade volume of the two countries was just US $ 12.77 million in the fiscal year 2008-09 with Bangladesh’s exports to Bhutan amounting to US $ 0.61 million while it imported goods worth US $ 12.16 million even as the bilateral trade volume reached US $ 49.65 million in the fiscal year 2018-19 out of which Bangladesh’s exports to Bhutan totalled US $ 7.56 million against the imports of US $ 42.09 million.
With the signing of the FTA, experts hoped exports from Bangladesh to Bhutan will get a further boost even as on the other hand Bangladesh Government is reportedly pursuing a trade agreement, which is supposed to be a PTA with Nepal even as Dhaka has reportedly demanded zero-duty entry for 140 products to Kathmandu in October last year.
Meanwhile, as to Maldives, Bangladesh is reportedly planning to export resortwear, which would help the country to increase its exports to the former.
It may be mentioned here that in June this year, the High Commissioner of Maldives Shiruzimath Sameer called upon the BGMEA President Faruque Hassan at the latter’s office and held discussion on the possible areas of cooperation between Maldives and Bangladesh for enhancing bilateral trade while also deliberating on the prospects of exporting resortwear and leisure apparel to Maldives which is a popular destination for global tourists where the demand for such clothing is very high.
However, India still continues to be the leading nation among the SAARC countries in terms of imports from Bangladesh.
Speaking to the media, Vice-President of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), Mohammad Hatem, maintained that market access to India following the ease of non-tariff and para-tariff barriers facilitated export to that country over the last few years even as he went on to add that before opening up of the market, Bangladesh’s export earnings to India were about half of the amount than the earnings in the past fiscal.
Duty-free market access apart, Bangladesh Government’s incentives for non-traditional market – the Government is providing a 4 per cent cash incentive against the export of apparel to non-traditional destinations – reported rise in production cost in India due to implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST), and presence of host of global retailers in India amongst the other factors that led to a sharp rise of Bangladesh’s exports, maintain industry insiders even as Research Director of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), DrKhondaker Golam Moazzem, on his part reportedly maintained that the export growth was good news for Bangladesh while adding Bangladesh still had more potential to expand its shipments to the SAARC countries.
“Bilateral factors rather than multi-lateral or regional initiatives have mainly prompted export within the SA nations,” claimed the CPD Research Director while underlining if Bangladesh could expedite the SAARC motor vehicles agreement (MVA), BBIN, and SAARC and SATA negotiations, the country’s shipments would expand manifold, as this sub-region is the home of nearly 2.0 billion people.
Going forward, all one would hope is Bangladesh is able to cobble up the trade agreement with Nepal while also work on the other fronts as has been pointed out by the CPD Research Director to further boost its exports to the SAARC countries.
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