Bangladesh wants to export professionals – including doctors, engineers, accountants, and nurses – to the United Kingdom (UK).
The commerce ministry has sought, as a least developed country, a service waiver for exporting manpower from Bangladesh.
Besides, in the UK's new trade policy, Bangladesh has sought duty-free access to the country – like in the Everything But Arms (EBA) programme of the European Union (EU).
Bangladesh placed the proposal at the first UK-Bangladesh Trade and Investment Dialogue held on Tuesday, Commerce Secretary Md Zafaruddin told The Business Standard (TBS) after emerging from the dialogue.
He said, "We have sought a service waiver facility in exporting professionals to the UK. If we get the facility, opportunities will be created to export doctors, nurses, engineers and others from Bangladesh. As a least developed country, according to the provisions of the World Trade Organisation, Bangladesh is entitled to getting priority in exporting services including professionals."
"The UK delegation has also assured us that they will consider the proposal," he added.
According to the United Kingdom's Office for National Statistics, the UK is one of the world's largest exporters of professional and business services. At the same time, it is one of the largest professional importers. In 2018, the country earned 185 billion pounds from professional and business services exports. At the same time, the country spent 92 billion pounds in imports.
A ministry official present at the meeting told TBS that the UK had not yet announced a new trade policy after Brexit. Until obtaining the new policy, the country has maintained the EU's EBA facility for Bangladesh. Dhaka has proposed that Bangladesh be given the same facility in the new trade policy.
He said the UK delegation proposed signing a Trade and Investment Forum Agreement. The decision will be taken after discussions in that forum. The United Kingdom has also promised to provide the EBA facility to Bangladesh as a single country.
The commerce secretary told TBS, "Highlighting various business environment facilities in Bangladesh, we proposed the investment of UK businessmen in our country be increased. The UK delegation expressed its interest in investing in Bangladesh's higher education and skills development sector."
The UK delegation complained that UK exporters are being discriminated against as customs officials are levying tariffs, even on fixed minimum price goods, exported from the UK to Bangladesh.
In response, representatives of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) present at the meeting said that NBR has undertaken a reform programme and such problems will be resolved soon.
Commerce Ministry officials said the EU-Bangladesh Business Climate Dialogue has been held every year since 2016 to address trade and investment issues. The United Kingdom also took part in that dialogue. In the aftermath of Brexit, the UK held a separate dialogue with Bangladesh for the first time on the bilateral trade and investment situation.
In fiscal year 2019-20, Bangladesh exported goods worth $3.5 billion to the UK and imported goods amounting to $1.1 billion, according to data from the commerce ministry.
The UK was the third-largest investor in Bangladesh in 2019 and also the third largest export destination for the country's apparel shipments.
In the dialogue, the 12-member delegation of Bangladesh was led by the commerce secretary, while the UK delegation was led by the UK High Commissioner to Dhaka Robert Chatterton Dickson.
Katie Barker, senior policy advisor at the UK's Department for International Trade; Rhiannon Harries, the UK's deputy trade commissioner to South Asia; Alice Clarke, senior trade for development advisor of the British High Commission in Pakistan; and Tessa Phippen, senior trade policy officer of British High Commission in India also joined remotely in the dialogue.
Both countries agreed to improve their trade relationship through a mutual commitment to private sector led growth, encouraging investment and addressing barriers to trade faced by their companies when exporting goods and services.
The commerce secretary said, "The dialogue will pave the way for our products, services and professionals to penetrate the UK market as well as contribute to increased investment in Bangladesh and expanding our exports."
Robert Chatterton Dickson said, "The UK is committed to working with Bangladesh to create a trade and investment relationship that helps both of our economies grow. FDI [foreign direct investment] can provide jobs, transfer skills and generate revenue. A conducive business environment and removal of market access barriers can benefit both countries."