In just four years, the export of agricultural products from Bangladesh has almost doubled. Businessmen and agro-economists in the sector see a six-fold increase in the next two to three years. The thorns in the path of this huge potential, they say, are non-tariff barriers. If that is eliminated, agricultural products could take the next place in the garment sector, which is at the top of export earnings.
Agricultural economists and traders are emphasizing on free trade agreement to increase exports to ASEAN countries besides highlighting some more such problems.
Industry insiders say Bangladeshi agricultural products are being exported to 144 countries, including various countries in Europe, America and Africa. At one time, to satisfy the taste of the expatriates in the local products, the export of products like muri, chanachur and biscuits started. Now the list includes jam-jelly, sauces, various spices, juices, mustard oil, pickles, fragrant rice and a few more products. They are also becoming popular among the people of the countries to which they are being exported.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), in the 2016-17 financial year, the export of agricultural products from Bangladesh was only 55 crore dollars. In the fiscal year 2020-21, the income from the export of agricultural products has come to 103 crore dollars. The growth has been more than 19 percent. In the first two months of the current financial year (2021-22) July-August, the income from the export of agro-processed products has been about 21 crore dollars or one thousand 785 crore taka. During this time the growth has been more than 16 percent. In the same period of the last financial year, the income was 17 crore 82 lakh dollars.
Syed Mohammad Shoaib Hasan, vice-president of the Bangladesh Agricultural Processing Association (BAPA), said it was possible to earn more than 300 crore dollars or more than Tk 25,000 crore in the next two to three years if tariff barriers in neighboring countries were removed and necessary policy support was given. He said the emphasis could be on brand and quality development to further enhance the international market. In this case, the embassies of Bangladesh abroad can play an effective role.
According to the people involved in the sector, 30 percent of the crops produced by the farmers are being wasted due to improper storage and processing. If it can be processed and sent abroad through a specific plan, there will be employment in the country, foreign exchange will come. The country’s economy will move forward. They said there are some obstacles in exporting goods with some countries. In this case, if the government and traders take joint initiative, the way for export will be wider. To make it easier to send goods to ports, to establish world-class laboratories in the country and to give importance to customs and non-tariff barriers in exports. They think that the agro-processed food products sector is emerging as the most promising export sector after the readymade garment industry.
Dr. Mizanul Haque, Secretary General of the Bangladesh Agricultural Economists Association, said that although the country’s agricultural exports have increased slightly, its huge potential is not being exploited due to the lack of transportation system. He said the products need to be manufactured by ensuring specialized transport system, phytosanitary (plant health related) certification, good agriculture practice (GAP) in the production of world class agricultural products as perishable products. He said that in order to maintain the quality of the product, it is necessary to increase the intensive communication from the exporter to the farmer and ensure and facilitate value addition. The Bangladesh Accreditation Board (BAB), a domestic body of international standards, should not be a tiger in the paper to build a world-class agricultural products industry in the country.
Ahsan Khan Chowdhury, chairman and chief executive officer of Pran-RFL Group, one of the country’s leading agro-based companies, said, “Exports are growing at a much lower rate than the country’s agricultural potential. To take this further, ASEAN countries need to sign Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), ”he said. Bangladesh’s share there is only 100 crore dollars. Ahsan Khan Chowdhury said the market will grow faster in the future. He added, “If Bangladesh joins Qatar after 2026, there is a possibility of losing duty-free and quota-free benefits.” We have to prepare now to deal with this crisis. ”
According to the EPB, 479 companies are exporting processed agricultural products to 144 countries. Apart from Pran-RFL Group, the export market of many other companies like Square, BD Food is also quite large. In this context, the chairman of Pran-RFL Group said that their exports in the last financial year was 34 crore dollars.
According to BAPA, the annual domestic market for agro-processed products is more than Tk 50,000 crore. About 20 lakh people are working. The export of goods in this sector started in the year 2000. As a result of the government’s 10-year tax holiday facility, 20 per cent cash incentive, the country’s export market is growing rapidly along with the rival countries India, Asia and Africa.