The Middle-East region comprising well over a dozen states --- often believed to be a potential market of Bangladeshi products --- is yet to become what it could be. Although Bangladesh has been exporting to the countries in the region for some time now, the value and volume of export appear to be way behind its ability. No doubt, one of the main features of these markets that should have made it a target destination of scores of products is the migrant population from Bangladesh living in those countries as well as those from the subcontinent whose consumer tastes and preferences are more or less like those of the Bangladeshis. According to observers, lack of market exploration and methodical research come in the way of developing a roadmap for sustained export marketing.
Basically, Bangladesh's export basket for the ME region has not changed much over the decades. Fresh and frozen fish, vegetables, spices, chemicals, jute products, apparels, pharmaceuticals constitute the bulk of the export list. There is no bilateral or regional trade agreement with these countries which many feel is the reason why the volume of export has not increased up to the expected level. Besides, Bangladeshi exporters often face non-tariff barriers as export is done in a disorganised manner.
The issues were raised at a webninar held in the capital last week where speakers emphasised the need for a roadmap for increased market access to the region. The webinar titled "Shaping Business Landscape: Economic Cooperation of Middle East & Bangladesh" jointly organised by the Ministry of Commerce and Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DCCI) focused on exploring the Middle Eastern markets, diversifying RMG products, and increasing greater access of halal food and fresh vegetables.
Currently, around three per cent of Bangladesh's exports goes to the ME markets which by any sensible standard is far too less than what the country can export to the region. While vegetables occupy a major share of the miniscule export volume, there is plenty of scope to further increase vegetable export. As for readymade garments, there have not yet been any mentionable exports to the region. One of the important items that appears to offer rosy prospect for Bangladesh in the ME markets is halal food, especially halal meat. There was a move to increase market share of halal food in the pre-pandemic time, and some consignments did make it to the markets in the UAE and a few other gulf states, but procedural requirements such as maintaining strict pre-shipment compliance protocols deterred the progress of export. Besides, there is no designated certification body in the country in this regard. These issues should be addressed adequately. Tapping the ME markets calls for methodical market to facilitate exploring new markets, especially the niche ones for many Bangladeshi products. With the country's economy rebounding fast, it is time the relevant authorities moved in a concerted manner to provide the right direction for boosting exports to the ME.