Speakers at a webinar on Sunday said Bangladesh’s pharmaceuticals export volume to markets in Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries can reach up to $1.2 billion from the present $60 million within the next four years if the technical and the non-tariff barriers are addressed.

At the webinar organized by the ministry of foreign affairs, they noted that Bangladesh has high potential to enter the ASEAN markets.

To promote Bangladeshi drugs in the ASEAN markets, single country product fairs need to be organized frequently and Bangladeshi companies need to set up stalls in there.

Chaired by foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen, the webinar was attended by Bangladesh ambassadors and high commissioners posted to the South East Asian countries, different Chambers of Commerce having business interests with the ASEAN countries, representatives from various exporters’ associations and high officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Commerce and Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission.

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Selim Raihan, professor, Department of Economics, University of Dhaka presented the keynote paper on “Expanding Bangladesh’s Business Ties with the ASEAN Countries”.

The foreign secretary said that historically and traditionally, Bangladesh has had very close commercial and cultural links to the South East Asian countries due to its geographic as well as strategic complementarities.

He said that in order to attain the government set goal of $60 billion export figure by the turn of the year, the performance on the South East Asian front has to be much better.

Selim Raihan pointed out that Bangladesh stands to gain significantly through integration with the South East Asian countries which will allow Bangladesh to focus on export oriented manufacturing strategy and encourage export diversification.

Observing that presently Bangladesh’s exports to ASEAN countries are significantly low, he said, product diversification followed by market and need assessments in those countries will Bangladesh accelerate the desired integration process.

The five challenges he identified in export diversification are: a) pro-RMG bias in the policies and programmes, b) inadequate policies and strategies hurting non RMG sectors, c) weak collective action on non-RMG sectors, d) an environment with a high cost of doing business disproportionately affecting the non-RMG sectors; and e) low public spending on health and education leading to low productivity and skill development.

BGMEA president Rubana Huq said that by 2030 ASEAN as a bloc would be the 4th largest economy in the world and to enter that market Bangladesh should negotiate signing an FTA with a Rules of Origin clause favourable to the ASEAN.

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