After graduating from the LDC group, Bangladesh will see some trade privileges revoked automatically. It is expected to hit the export sector hard as the duty-free trade facility that the country avails as a least developed nation under the arrangement of World Trade Organisation (WTO) will no longer be in place.
Bangladesh has a total of 23 commercial wings under 61 foreign missions. The missions in India, China and the United States have two commercial wings each.
As international trade is constantly taking new shapes, Bangladesh is paying attention to explore new markets and tap into the associated trade potential. The move to open new commercial wings is a part of the effort.
Also, there is a discussion on moving the commercial wings of Myanmar and Iran to other areas as they lost importance in initial assessment. The wing of Yangon might be moved to Bangkok.
According to sources, the Bangladesh envoys in foreign missions had initially written to the foreign and commerce ministries over opening the commercial wings. After conducting feasibility tests, the commerce forwarded the letter to the public administration ministry for its approval. It will now be sent to the finance ministry’s economic relations division for final approval.
However, the exporters are discontented with the existing commercial wings. According to the export promotion bureau (EPB), only 15 commercial wings have achieved their export targets in the fiscal year 2021-22 (July-April). The wings are in Canberra, Singapore, Geneva, Delhi, Brussels, Ottawa, Berlin, Tokyo, Seoul, Yangon, London, Washington, Paris, Dubai and Madrid.
Apart from that, the wings in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Moscow, Jeddah, Kunming, Los Angeles, and Tehran failed to achieve their targets.
A commercial counselor or first secretary runs a commercial wing while a committee, headed by commerce secretary, assesses the wings’ activities. The wings in Ottawa, Kolkata, Kunming and Kuala Lumpur are being operated under the supervision of first secretaries (commercial).
The commerce ministry repeatedly asks the low-performing wings to be proactive, but serves no strong warning.
Mohammad Hatem, executive president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), said officials of most commercial wings are quite inactive. It does not seem that they are stationed in the wings.
“The basic duties of commercial counselors are acting as ambassadors of Bangladeshi products and introducing the Bangladeshi exporters to the new importers of the respective countries in an effort to gear up the exports here. I would say, they moved away from the basic duties,” he added.
Reasons behind launching new wings
Asked about cancelation of wings in Tehran and Yangon, a senior official of the commerce ministry said he sees no reason behind keeping the wings in place after they failed to achieve even minimum export targets.
The wing in Tehran had an export target of USD 27 million while that of Yangon had a target of USD 34 million. They both failed to fulfill the target.
According to sources, Bangladesh now maintains a growing connection with Thailand as it is a tourism-based country. Indonesia might be a major destination of Bangladeshi products – other than apparel. Apart from that, there are new trade potentials in Mexico for Bangladesh.
Abida Islam, ambassador of Bangladesh to Mexico, recently informed the commerce secretary that globally acclaimed brand Coppel is interested in importing garments as well as bicycles, home textiles, underwear, home appliances, jute and ceramic products from Bangladesh.
The African countries are also becoming new destinations for Bangladeshi products.
EPB vice chairman AHM Ahsan will also participate in the meeting at Ganabhaban. He told Prothom Alo that there have long been discussions over the four new commercial wings. These are necessary.
He believes now is the time to look for new export destinations to deal with the challenges after transition from LDC.