Poster in Mar 02, 2024 13:11:31

"No need for cash assistance, allow duty-free import of raw materials Save translation"

"No need for cash assistance, allow duty-free import of raw materials Save translation"

PRAN-RFL Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mr. Ahsan Khan Chowdhury. Photo: Collected

Agriculture and processed food products are the leading export sectors of the country. Exports of this sector have exceeded 1 billion dollars for two consecutive financial years. However, exports fell by 27 percent in the last financial year. In such a context, the government wants to increase the export of this sector. In the first meeting of the new cabinet in January, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed to help diversify exports and explore new markets in three sectors, including agriculture and processed products. PRAN-RFL Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mr. Ahsan Khan Chowdhury recently spoke to the news media about the export potential, challenges and actions of this sector. His interview was published for the readers of "Grain Feed and Milling Magazine".

Question: The government has decided to provide policy facilities to provide necessary facilities to increase exports of agricultural and processed food products. What kind of cooperation is needed to initially increase exports?

Mr. Ahsan Khan Chowdhury: We have already received all the necessary support to advance the food business in Bangladesh. I think businessmen spend most of their time on non-business issues. For example, some terrorists are harassing traders in such and such a place. The pain will ease the businessman's two days. I think it is very important. If the entrepreneurs are not at ease, then they cannot engage themselves fully in the business. If the law and order situation is a little better, business and trade will expand. For this, if the Prime Minister gives a specialized mobile phone number or e-mail address of his office, then the businessmen can report their problems there. There is no need to listen to traders making unfair claims. However, if there is a fair demand, the solution should be given immediately, the businessmen hope. The Prime Minister of India, however, responded to many e-mails. We will move forward only when the problems of traders are resolved.

Question: Many exporters of agricultural and processed food products say that they would have benefited if they had the opportunity to import duty-free raw materials.

Mr. Ahsan Khan Chowdhury: We export biscuits. We import some materials for this. Again some indigenous materials are used. Suppose we want to export chocolates. However, cocoa seeds or powder are not produced in our country. Cocoa powder is also not produced in Switzerland. But the country imports the material and makes chocolate and exports it. We want to do it that way. Our country has a bondedware facility to import materials at a duty-free facility. But there are some hardship rules in the bond. Bond facilities are not available unless the factory is 100% export-oriented. But there are factories in our country which export 10 percent of the products. In fact, most of our factories are like that. It is possible for large factories to have separate factories for export and domestic supply. But it is very difficult for small entrepreneurs to do that. Currently, cash assistance is provided for them. Until now 20 percent cash assistance has been given but it has been reduced to 15 percent. It will be reduced step by step. In November 2026, there will be no more cash assistance after Bangladesh transitions to a developing country. Entrepreneurs are not worried about this. But if preparations are not taken from now, then we will not be able to maintain competitiveness in the future. We don't need cash assistance, let us import raw materials at a duty-free facility. If necessary, in the document of import of materials, write down how much has been imported and how much will be exported against it. If I can account as an organization, then there is no need to raid the factory.

Question: What do you think our agriculture sector needs to do to increase exports of agricultural and processed food products?

Mr. Ahsan Khan Chowdhury: Our country lacks technology in agriculture. Here technology means the government will buy the plough, not that. Technology means the improvement of crop varieties. Suppose a mango tree occupies an area of 2 feet by 2 feet. Now if the fruit is not moderate, then that tree should be removed and new varieties should be planted. Production is a big issue in agriculture. In the future, factories for the production of processed food products will be developed extensively in Bangladesh. For that, we have to target some crops. The duty on the import of sugar should be reduced. Otherwise, we will not be able to provide various types of food to consumers at low prices. Exports will also fall behind.

Question: Which crops should we emphasize?

Mr. Ahsan Khan Chowdhury: Bangladesh is a very small country. Nothing will happen if all kinds of crops are produced. The experts of our country need to calculate, and we will emphasize the production of certain crops. We will import the crops which are cheap. And we will cultivate the relatively expensive crop. We are trying to increase mango production. Attempts are being made to increase tomato production and reduce prices. A lot of attention should be given to the production of spices. Lately, the prices of chicks, chickens and eggs have been hurting us. Policing here will not bring any solution. We have to emphasize what will increase the production.

Question: How big is the export potential in agriculture and processed food products?

Mr. Ahsan Khan Chowdhury: The possibilities for us are endless. We haven't even gotten to 1 percent of that potential yet. Our company's export is 30 million dollars. It can easily be taken to 30 billion. But there are limitations. We do not blame anyone for this. We have to do business with bank loans. If our banking sector is not doing well, I will not get loans.

We have huge potential in various processed food products including frozen food, confectionery and spices. Biscuits are exported from Germany to remote parts of the world. Then why not from Bangladesh? There is nothing to be upset about. There is no shortage of talented people here. There will be some temporary problems. We are still babies in international trade. So let's not blame each other. I will tell bureaucrats to increase communication with businessmen. Then the country will move forward. Don't think of our weakness as weakness. Our weakness is a reflection of society itself. If any of our weaknesses reflect on you, give us an opportunity to correct them with constructive criticism. Then you will see that there will be no problem.

Source: Online/GFMM

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