Bangladesh has not yet cashed in on a potential clothing market in the Middle East, with a strong economic base, for its failure to diversify goods, business leaders say.
Similarly, inflows of foreign direct investment from the region is not satisfactory either, they said at a webinar on Thursday.
The commerce ministry and the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) jointly organised the webinar titled "Shaping Business Landscape: Economic Cooperation of the Middle East and Bangladesh" – the third day of Bangladesh Trade and Investment Summit 2021.
On the other hand, Bangladesh could not develop Halal business outreach owing to limited infrastructure needed for exploiting the potential market in the Middle Eastern region, the businesspeople noted.
Technological know-how and financial cooperation for setting up joint venture Halal certification and testing institutes are needed, they added.
Besides, the country's remittance earnings from Gulf states are not as expected as it mostly sends unskilled and semi-skilled workers there, they said, adding that economic diplomacy should be strengthened by Bangladesh to ensure labour supply to the countries.
There is no bilateral and multilateral free trade agreement or preferential trade agreement with Middle Eastern countries to increase trade balance.
DCCI President Rizwan Rahman in his brief presentation said limited diversification of readymade garment and export products are challenges for export growth in the Middle Eastern countries.
Fazlul Haque, managing director of Plummy Fashions Ltd – the world's highest rated green knitwear factory, admitted that Bangladesh's apparel exports to the Middle East are now growing at an expected rate owing to a lack of product diversification.
"Two countries – United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – import clothing items worth $2.5 billion and $1.6 billion, respectively, every year. But our annual exports to the entire region amount to only $226 million," he added.
"This failure is on our part. We need to work to capture this market," said the Plummy Fashions MD.
In this case, he sought cooperation from officials at Bangladesh embassies in the region.
Sulaiman Al Jedaie, managing director at Saudi Industrial Export Company, said they are interested in investing in the food processing sector in Bangladesh and export to Latin American and African markets.
UAE Acting Ambassador to Bangladesh Abdulla Ali AlHmoudi said, "We want to expand business, and we want to deepen engagement through strategic partnership."
To strengthen bilateral trade relations, the Bangladesh-UAE business council may be formed in the near future, he added.
As a chief guest at the event, Mashiur Rahman, economic affairs adviser to the prime minister, said it is a very good time to invest in the infrastructure sector in Bangladesh. Household electronics is a very potential market to invest in as the output is quite high.
Sophisticated technological products, API and generic pharmaceutical markets are another potential sector to invest in, he also said.
Stating that to enter a market, it is evitable to know the market first, he underscored the need for chamber-to-chamber relations to boost trade.
Shamim Ul Huq, country director at DP World, Bangladesh, K Mahmood Sattar, chairman at RSA Advisory and RSA Capital Ltd, Tajwar M Awal, director at Lal Teer Seed Ltd, spoke at the webinar among others.