Despite limitations, the country's food processing industry has over the years been able to prove both its potential and success in meeting the growing domestic needs while also catering for overseas demands. What actually stands on its way of flourishing, especially on the export front, is inadequate lab testing facilities. Industry insiders consider this a major deterrent to the growth of the country's food processing sector. While lab testing is the only means to ensuring quality compliance of products, it is most crucial in respect of food products, and unless food items meant for export are channelled through proper laboratory tests, Bangladesh's export market would continue to remain untapped, despite high potential. This is more pronounced these days than in the past as the destination markets, especially those in the developed countries, are resorting to trade barriers through stricter non-tariff measures on standards relating to, among others, sanitary and phyto-sanitary aspects.
There is no point harping on the issue as an urgent requirement. Agro-processors know it well, and have been suffering for this while exporting. However, not all overseas markets are equally sensitive, but most importing countries go by standard procedures with strict compliance norms. The country's agro-processors have been urging the government to establish a quality control lab of international standard where processed food items will be tested in order to obtain better branding in the world market. The issue, in fact, is more than branding because unless products are able to access prospective markets, the question of branding is a far cry. More importantly, if an importing country comes up with an embargo owing to deficient quality control, the fallout would take its toll on the entire industry. One good suggestion that came from the President of the Bangladesh Agro-processors' Association (BAPA) sometime ago was that the government should establish a world-class quality control lab under public private partnership (PPP) in order to help agro-processors to test their products and compete better on the global market.
Currently, although Bangladeshi foods are being exported to as many as 130 countries ranging from the advanced to less advanced regions, the key markets, because of the concentration of migrant population, are the United Kingdom, the USA, Canada, Malaysia and countries in the Middle Eastern region. But reaching out to wider consumer groups demands that food products, especially those processed, must come to terms with the compliance requirements of respective countries. The EU being such a destination asks for fulfilment of its stringent compliance requirements. And to access markets like the EU, quality assurance would allow besides accessing the markets, the opportunity of diversifying product range.
In this context, the issue of accredited labs may also be found pertinent. Human, technical and logistic resources may not always be enough to assure exporters of entry of their products into the target markets. What is important here is compatibility that can be ensured through accredited agencies, authorised to conduct tests as per strictly followed and monitored guidelines. It is high time the government looked into the matter to bring about the desired vibrancy in the agro-processing sector.