The sound of nails being hammered into timber could be heard from the main entrance of the Dhaka International Trade Fair (DITF). There was also the sight of workers preparing stalls with bricks, sand, brick chips and crowbars.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the 25th edition of the month-long fair on Wednesday, with almost 80 percent of the stalls and pavilions still under construction.
Attributing the delay in construction to lethargy on the part of the traders, the Bangladesh Export Promotion Bureau, which organises the fair, said it will be fully ready in a day or two.
However, officials of Mir Brothers, the company assigned to manage the fair, said the delay is a result of an economic downturn and negligence of the commerce ministry.
The manager of Mir Brothers, Mir Shamsuddin Palash, highlighted the ministry's negligence by saying, "Even though the process of allotting stalls for the fair usually starts on December 1 every year, this year it started on December 19.
"The price of space for stalls and pavilions in the fair has also been increased. Therefore, the fair has failed to draw the expected response from traders this year."
During a visit to the fair on opening day, this correspondent found that even the pavilion of the organiser, the Export Promotion Bureau, was incomplete. Sitting arrangements had been made for officials of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh without constructing the stall, although no officials were seen there.
The Digital Information Centre, from where various services including digital map, way finding and directory are provided at the fair, was also not ready. Moreover, there was no equipment or official there.
Most of the stalls and pavilions were still under construction, but a few had been completed. The people manning the completed stalls were busy arranging their products.
A total of 27 foreign pavilions have been set up in the fair this year, but none of them were ready on the opening day of the fair.
Large brands and firms prepare their pavilions well ahead of the inauguration of the fair every year, but that has not happened this year.
The staff of the Pran-RFL Best Buy stall were still arranging their products on the first day. They said that though the interior of the pavilion is complete, the exterior is not. Therefore, they are going slow with arranging the products.
Asked about the delay, the member secretary to the fair and deputy director of the Export Promotion Bureau, Md Abdur Rauf, said they had made an effort to complete construction on time, but the traders had delayed in taking allotment of the stalls.
He, however, said the fair will be fully ready in a day or two.
A total of 483 stalls and pavilions will showcase quality products from home and abroad at the fair this year. There are 112 regular pavilions, 27 foreign pavilions, 11 foreign mini pavilions, 128 mini pavilions and 243 stalls.
Companies from 21 countries, including the USA, the UK, Italy, Australia, Germany, China, South Africa, Turkey, the UAE, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Pakistan and Brunei will take part in it.
The fair will be open from 10am to 9:30pm every day till January 31. The entry fee has been set at Tk 40 for adults and Tk 20 for children, an increase of Tk 10 from last year.
Export earnings from the fair were $19.46 million last year. The earning was $35.5 million in 2018, according to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).
The traditional month-long fair, starting on the first day of the new year of the Gregorian calendar, has been jointly organised by the EPB and the commerce ministry since 1995.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the 25th Dhaka International Trade Fair 2020 at its usual venue at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar in the capital early on Wednesday morning, from the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre.
She said Bangladesh can produce more bicycles, motorcycles, automobiles, auto parts, electric and electronic items, accumulator batteries, solar photo-vaulting modules and toys under the light engineering section.
"We have scope to invite more investment and we have a huge market for light engineering products," she said.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi presided over the programme. The chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce Ministry Tofail Ahmed, Commerce Secretary Dr Jafar Uddin, Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry President Sheikh Fazle Fahim and Export Promotion Bureau Vice-Chairman Fatima Yasmin also spoke at the programme.