Talks on Bangladesh-China joint production of Covid-19 vaccine have made encouraging progress, said Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming.
The discussion on Bangladesh procuring vaccine from China had also progressed considerably, he told a virtual discussion on Bangladesh-China economic and trade relations jointly organised by the Economic Reporters' Forum (ERF) and the Bangladesh China Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCCI) on Wednesday.
He said despite huge domestic demand and tightening global supply, China had tried its best to help Bangladesh as Dhaka had already received some 5,00,000 vaccine doses from Beijing as gifts while another six lakh doses were waiting to be shipped.
The 6 lakh doses are likely to arrive in Dhaka by 13 June, he said.
The Directorate General of Drug Administration has so far approved the use of China's Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines. Apart from administering the doses that came as gifts, the government has initiated vaccine imports from China as well.
The Cabinet Division on 27 May approved the import of 1.5 crore doses from China. But no official information on vaccine production has been disclosed. Sinovac's local agent Incepta Pharmaceuticals knows nothing about vaccine production either.
Incepta Chairman Abdul Muktadir said the government had only approved the use of the vaccine while the health ministry and the drug administration directorate were taking care of all the processes, including imports.
"They told us nothing."
Bangladeshi products' potential in Chinese market
Experts believe there is huge potential for Bangladeshi products in the Chinese market if Bangladesh can take advantage of the duty-free access it was granted in 2020 and the free trade agreement (FTA) under discussion.
They say China imported $2.48 trillion worth of goods from different countries last year, but Bangladesh's share in this market is only 0.05%. Bangladesh can export goods worth $25 billion a year if it can capture only 1% of China's import market.
Bangladesh currently exports less than $1 billion worth of goods and services to China.
Dr MA Razzaque, research director at the Policy Research Institute, presented the keynote at the event and said China would be the world's largest economy in 2028 considering the current global reality.
He said there is huge potential for Bangladeshi products, especially readymade garments, in the massive Chinese consumer market.
Bangladesh currently holds 7% of China's apparel market while Vietnam has occupied more than 19%, he said. "Bangladesh will find a huge market in this segment if it focuses on it."
Describing China as Bangladesh's largest trade partner, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said last year's bilateral trade between the two countries was $12.09 billion.
"Of the amount, Bangladesh's import from China was $11.49 billion and Chinese export to Bangladesh was $60 million. In terms of bilateral trade, China is the winner," he said.
He said China had offered Bangladesh duty-free access for 97% of 2,095 products. He expressed hope that Bangladesh would be able to utilise this facility.
The minister said the 2016 visit of the Chinese prime minister to Bangladesh and that of the Bangladeshi prime minister to China in 2019 were important for the development of bilateral trade.
"We talked about the FTA during both visits and there has been some progress. But we need to make more efforts to implement it fast."
Tipu said the FTA would be implemented before Bangladesh's graduation from the list of least developed countries (LDCs) and he was hopeful that Bangladesh would handle the post-graduation challenges well.
Li said he thinks the Chinese market is a new possibility for Bangladesh due to the duty-free facilities.
He said Chinese imports from Bangladesh had increased by 28% last year and this would grow even further in the future. "The bilateral trade between the two countries will reach a balance."
The envoy said the FTA could play an important role in boosting trade between the two countries in addition to the existing duty-free facilities. "But the Bangladesh government has to do more on this front."
Bangladesh Investment Development Authority Chairman Md Sirazul Islam said at the event China still has lots of opportunities to invest in Bangladesh apart from the recent ones in several areas, such as telecommunication, power, and energy.
"As per talks held during the bilateral visits of both prime ministers, Bangladesh is supposed to get $27 billion of Chinese investments, but we have so far received investments of $2 billion. We can have a discussion with them on this," he said.
Bangladesh Ambassador to China Mahbub Uz Zaman said trade in both countries would grow if the investment promises made during the bilateral visits were implemented.
He said Chinese investments would create lots of jobs in Bangladesh, adding the government was working to strengthen bilateral ties with China.
Among others, BCCCI President Gazi Golam Mortuza, Joint General Secretary Al Mamun Mridha, Senior Vice-President Brigadier General (retd) Shah Md Sultan Uddin, and ERF President Sharmeen Rinvy addressed the programme.