Various obstacles from lengthy official procedures to lack of packaging facilities have been detering many foreigners from investing in Bangladesh, said Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque on Sunday.
He said this at a meeting on cross-border trade organised by the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers and Industries (FBCCI), where he shared his experience of how a Singaporean importer was discouraged from importing agricultural products from Bangladesh due to various problems.
He said, "A buyer from Singapore approached me and expressed interest in buying agricultural products from Bangladesh and asked for my assistance. After assuring him of all kinds of cooperation, he went to a packing house at Shyampur and was totally frustrated after seeing various issues including cleaning and packaging of the agricultural products there.
"Afterwards, he went to Custom House, Chittagong. Upon inspection, he found that It takes not just 12-24 hours, but 4-5 days, to clear a container there. Discouraged by this scenario, he went back to Singapore."
In the event, businessmen demanded the development of a risk management system to increase international trade.
Trade Facilitation Project Senior Technical Adviser AAM Amimul Ehsan Khan presented the keynote paper in the event. In his presentation, he mentioned that 100% of the first 5 consignments, 25% of the next 5, and 5% of the subsequent 20 consignments undergo examination in Australia.
However, if any consignment fails the examination, a 100% examination is conducted again for the next consignment. The EU examines 5% of consignments for fruits and vegetables, 1% for highly refined animal products, and 15% for poultry and meat.
However, in Bangladesh, every imported consignment undergoes product inspection. Additionally, separate inspections are conducted by Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI), Atomic Energy Commission, and Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR). This not only consumes extra time but also incurs additional costs, posing a risk to cross-border trade.
Local businesses claim that due to the absence of advanced risk management practices at the port, a trader is required to undergo repeated inspections of the same product during the import process. This is leading to an increase in both time and costs, affecting everyone from the business owners to the consumers. Therefore, there is a need to develop advanced risk management practices to boost international trade.
Bangladesh Foodstuff Importers and Suppliers Association President Md Borhan-e-Sultan said, "Every time I import a consignment, it undergoes inspections by BSTI, BCSIR, and the Atomic Energy Commission. However, despite importing baby food from a trusted source for years, if the clearances from the labs are not obtained, customs does not release the products."
"What is happening is that our expenses are increasing, and we are spending extra time. The impact of this is being felt by the consumers. So why are we bringing the health certificate of the departments of different countries according to the rules? They also have different costs. These things need to be simplified as are being done overseas."
PRAN-RFL Chairman Ahsan Khan said, "We should follow the best practices of the world. Perhaps then change will come."
"We have the food safety authority here, and India has it too. To export to India, we need to collaborate with India's food safety authority. And exporting to Europe and America can be easy if we can establish good-quality factories."
Exporting to America is easier than importing anything in Bangladesh, he said.
Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque said, "To reduce the complexity of releasing goods from the port, the prime minister has allocated space for the Ministry of Agriculture in the east of the capital, where the goods will be tested and sent directly to the cargo."
As a result, both time and money for businesses will be saved, he said, adding that the work on this will start very soon.
FBCCI President Mahbubul Alam said, "We will soon discuss with the government to facilitate international trade. Seamless food management is our main goal. When we become a developed country, we will need efficient food management. And policy advocacy is crucial for this."