Despite good diplomatic relations with Gulf countries, Bangladesh is missing out on the $10 billion unexplored apparel market owing to a lack of initiatives on parts of the government and the private sector.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a political and economic union of Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain.
According to the International Trade Centre data, in 2020, the UAE sourced about $4.40 billion worth of apparel items from global markets, Saudi Arabia $3.01 billion, Kuwait $1.13 billion, Qatar $660 million, Oman $608 million and Bahrain $274 million.
Bangladesh now exports only $367.49 million worth of goods to this region, as per Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) data.
But, the country can supply about 5% of the annual demand of the UAE, around 4% of Saudi Arabia's and less than 1% of the rest, the bureau says.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) President Faruque Hassan said Bangladeshi apparel exporters have a big opportunity in the Gulf and Middle East markets that have remained untapped for a long time owing to a lack of initiatives.
"We are planning to explore those markets in association with the commerce ministry and the foreign affairs ministry," he added.
Ashikur Rahman Tuhin, managing director at TAD Group, said, "We are focusing on traditional markets as it is very easy to get orders, while new markets need more efforts to explore."
In the case of new markets such as the Gulf region, the government needs to hold a single country or region-based expo to explore export potential and make bridges among customers and manufacturers, he said.
The commerce ministry in association with the foreign ministry can arrange G2G meetings where manufacturers will join and then B2B meetings will be helpful to find out potential customers, Ashikur added.
He believes Bangladesh's participation in the upcoming expo 2020 in Dubai could help to explore the Gulf markets.
BGMEA Vice-President Shahidullah Azim said, "We have had talks with our diplomatic missions several times to organise a single country expo where exporters may join with their products, but it has not materialised yet.
"Our discussion has been stuck at courtesy meetings with our envoys."
He mentioned that manufacturers have explored the Latin American markets, which is now worth $2 billion.
Shahidullah Azim said Gulf countries have been sourcing most of their apparel items from China, India, Turkey and other countries. "Despite being the second-largest apparel exporter, our participation is very nominal in this market.
A huge opportunity in Gulf countries has still been untapped owing to a lack of government initiatives, it will be a big market for other export items such as leather goods, jute and ceramics
"If the government takes initiative, we can easily take at least $5 to $6 billion market share."
Shahidullah said Arabian traditional dresses are also high in value.
BGMEA former president Kutubuddin Ahmed said a huge opportunity in Gulf countries has still been untapped owing to a lack of government initiatives, it will be a big market for other export items such as leather goods, jute and ceramics.
The EPB should organise a fair in every country, they should invite those countries' importers to display other goods alongside garments.
"The commerce ministry may activate our diplomatic missions to make it successful," he added.