Proposed Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission  

Published: December 20, 2018 22:05:31 | Updated: December 22, 2018 22:07:23

Sometimes a potentially big news is revealed quietly, perhaps in keeping with the less flamboyant exterior of an organisation it is all   about. It has come to light courtesy of a seminar organised by the Institute of Chartered Secretaries of Bangladesh (ICSB) in the capital last Saturday that a full-fledged Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission (BTTC) may be in the offing. In accordance with a proposed amendment --the final draft has received the Cabinet's green light-- the existing Bangladesh Tariff Commission (BTC) will be known as the Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission (BTCC) with increased responsibility entrusted to it.

 Setting import tariffs to protect local industries was its   traditional function but now it would have to do so   with the entire gamut of trade in mind. It must set its sight on value addition to exports to begin with. Garments is a case in point where   an increasing local value addition  through  facilitating backward linkages remains an agenda. For instance, in terms of export  diversification,  we may import micro-chips at a negotiated tariff from China  to   put them into locally manufactured mobile sets aiming to export them highly profitably. Jute presents a new horizon with a wide range of biodegradable products, including bagging or packaging stuffs in the face of plastic/polythene invasions menacing our oceans, ecology and overland environs.

So we find export diversification and improvement in the export- GDP ratio as worthwhile addition to the commission's field of competence. The greater the trade-GDP ratio is, the higher the country's  export  to global trade but  Bangladesh's  ratio at 36.7 per cent includes 22.34 per cent worth of imports. The huge trade imbalance will have to be worked off. In fact, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Bangladesh's   ratio of export of goods and services to the GDP may decline in the on-going fiscal year. It may reach 14.30 per cent as against 15 per cent in the previous year.

   From a 'bureau'  to  a 'commission', it was  no simple alteration of  name; even though we may sometimes equate  status elevation of  an office or a  department with a step towards  institution-building! But we soon learn that raising an institution or, more precisely, operating an existing one with a baggage, is more a matter of substance than that of form. When the tariff  bureau was  made into Bangladesh Tariff Commission (BTC), under the Bangladesh Tariff Commission Act, 1992, it  was  intended  to be a transformative change; but two and a half decades on,  it  has been  found wanting some major ways: The first drawback  is felt by way of lack of  specificity in  terms of determination of goals. Secondly, the BTC is handicapped in carrying  out  its    special   remit in matters of trade and tariff based on research, updated   analysis and above all, economic intelligence gathering and  sharing .

The goals  are set out  in generalisations. With a  preamble  'to protect domestic industries  from unequal competition', the plethora  of objectives are elaborated  thus: "The major responsibility  is to  develop recommendations on measures  relating to protection of  domestic industries, creation of sound competitive environment  for industrial production, ensuring optimal use of industrial resources, promotion of export of domestic goods, taking measures  to prevent dumping and unfair practices in the importation and sales  of foreign products ,and increasing market access of domestic industries through bilateral, regional and multilateral  trade agreements."

The list is extensive making coordination extremely challenging, even failure-prone, involving a number of organisations: the National Board of Revenue (NBR), the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the Bangladesh Bank, the Ministry of Planning, the Planning Commission and the Ministry of Commerce. Clear cross-cutting points will have to be identified to formulate a coherent strategy with a nodal agency to operate it with maximum effect.

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