Bangladesh is set to resume exporting betel leaves to the United Kingdom by the middle or end of this year.
Following in the European Union's footsteps, the UK is also gearing up to lift the existing ban on betel leaf imports from Bangladesh, according to the Bangladesh High Commission in London.
The EU imposed a ban on betel leaf imports from Bangladesh in February 2014 after detecting the harmful bacteria Salmonella in the leaves.
The ban was gradually extended to 2020, at a time when the UK was a member of the EU.
While imposing the sanction, the EU then set a number of conditions for Bangladesh to export betel leaves, which include ensuring Salmonella-free leaves certified by an internationally accredited laboratory, good agricultural practices (GAP) from production to shipment, good hygiene practices, and good manufacturing practices.
With Bangladesh fulfilling these conditions, the EU lifted the ban in April last year and Dhaka exported a tonne of betel leaves to the EU the following month.
But Bangladesh could not resume betel leaf exports to the UK due to Brexit – the UK's departure from the EU. To do that, an approval from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) of the UK was needed.
SM Jakaria Huq, commercial counsellor at the Bangladesh High Commission in London, said in a recent letter the High Commission had informed the FSA about the EU's decision on withdrawing the export ban.
Moreover, the Ministry of Agriculture has requested the FSA to lift the ban by sending it documentary evidence of various safety steps taken by the Bangladesh government in betel leaf cultivation, including the issue of Salmonella bacteria, Jakaria said.
In response, the UK FSA and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) on 5 April informed the Bangladesh High Commission that the sanction could be removed on certain conditions. The two government food bodies also came up with a proposal containing recommendations and amendments in this regard, the commercial counsellor said.
A 12-week public consultation will be held on the proposal, and the outcome will be uploaded on the websites of the FSA and FSS soon. The Bangladesh government also has the opportunity to express its opinion at the discussion, he said.
"After sitting with the stakeholders, a proposal for amendments will be brought to the UK parliament, which, if approved, will notify the World Trade Organization. The UK FSA has stated that final action in this regard could be completed by the middle or end of 2022," added Jakaria Huq.
This is the first such review to take place since the UK withdrew from the EU. The purpose of this review is to ensure that legislation remains focused on imported food and feed commodities.
Prior to the EU sanctions, Bangladesh earned $30 million by exporting 13,250 tonnes of betel leaves to European Union countries in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
An official of the Ministry of Agriculture, on condition of anonymity, told The Business Standard that Bangladesh has taken a number of measures to meet the conditions imposed by the EU, including the selection of betel cultivation area, contract farming, adoption and implementation of programmes as per Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), monitoring, traceability, betel sample test, farmer selection and training, training of exporters' representatives, regular betel soil and water testing, safe and pest-free betel leaf production guidelines for export market.
"The EU in its test found no trace of harmful substances in Bangladeshi betel leaves. As such, we hope that Bangladesh will resume betel exports to the UK market as well," the official added.