The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has 194 member countries. And, Bangladesh has trade relations with each of them more or less.
Bangladesh is scheduled for graduating from the status of a least developed country (LDC) to that of developing one in 2026. Even after becoming a developing country, Bangladesh may continue to enjoy the international support measures associated with LDC status for a three-year grace period. But if we do not have any bilateral agreement with any country within the period, the current trade facility will be abolished.
It is not possible to do preferential trade agreements (PTAs) and free trade agreements (FTAs) with all WTO members within the time period but we have the opportunity to cover almost the entire world by signing only 10 agreements, including three bilateral FTAs and seven others with regional blocks.
We observe that the government is negotiating with many countries on different agreements, but those may not bring much benefits considering their costs.
The government has to establish separate desks to deal with different countries separately.
The PTA signed with Bhutan is the first such bilateral preferential trade agreement Bangladesh has signed since its independence in 1971. But, the business volume is not significant for Bangladesh.
As the government is also trying to sign such trade deals with Indonesia and India, those will not yield any larger benefits for the country.
Bangladesh is going to sign a comprehensive economic partnership agreement with India to maintain a preferential market access after its graduation to a developing nation.
I think we do not need to sign such a deal with the South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta) facility already in place.
No country has benefited from signing a new deal with India in recent memory. Safta is the best option for Bangladesh to protect trade facilities in the Indian market.
We have only four years to do trade deals with the world to ensure a smooth LDC graduation, the current pace of doing business deals may push us to lose preferential market access after the graduation.
For example, we can join the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the largest economic bloc in the world, which will ensure market access in 15 countries.
Similarly, inking a deal with Mercosur will cover the South American trade bloc.
Besides joining seven regional blocs, we can do FTAs with the USA, Canada and UK. All these will cover almost the entire global market.
We have developed these proposals for the government after analysing the merits and demerits of FTAs with these blocs and countries. It is a doctor's prescription for Bangladesh' trade facilitation, the government may accept it.
The article is written by Jasim Uddin, senior correspondent of The Business Standard