Bangladesh lags far behind its regional trade competitors in seizing a share of surging imports going to China, world's second-largest economy, as many stores in developed countries also go dry for supply crunch.
Official data show Bangladesh's export to China was worth only 799 million US dollars in 2020-albeit a crisis year for the invasive pandemic. The figure is dwarfed by Vietnam's volume of export to China, amounting to $78.47 billion, the same year.
Myanmar's export to China was 6.3 billion and Cambodia's 1.5 billion-almost double than Bangladesh's.
Even despite serious geopolitical rivalry with China, India made the most of the import bonanza on the rival neighbour's market. India's average export to China had seen a 1.2-per cent growth in five years until the pandemic outbreak.
Bangladesh's average export growth to China during the same period was a peanut 0.05 per cent.
In 2020, the year when supply chains with most far-off countries were disrupted, Bangladesh received 20.86 billion dollars from exports to China.
Talking to the FE, experts suggest a comprehensive move by the stakeholders to augment exports to China-a market of around 1.4 billion people.
Professor Mostafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) feels that supply-side constraint is the major challenge facing Bangladesh in its quest for higher-income status.
"Each year, China imports goods worth 2,200 billion dollars and our share is very insignificant - nearly 800 million dollars," he told the FE.
According to commerce ministry data, Bangladesh exports 98 types of goods to China, 60 per cent of which are readymade garments. Other products in the not-so-rich export basket are jute and jute thread, textile thread, fish, crab, Asian swamp eel, rawhide, leather goods etc.
"Our major exportable product is RMG, which is not a major product in Chinese import basket," Professor Mostafiz noted in suggesting concentration on much-needed product diversification.
"And the Special Economic Zones can play a vital role in this regard. We can also attract Chinese investors so that they can set up export-oriented plants here targeting Chinese market," he said.
He also reminds that Bangladesh has a vast opportunity to explore Chinese market as China has provided duty-free access to 97 per cent of its products.
China's monthly imports jumped 33.1 per cent, year on year, to a record USD 236 billion in August 2021--exceeding market estimates of 26.8 per cent and after a 28.1-per cent growth a month before.
Such a needs surge China's import trade is portrayed in latest UN data.
Economist Prof MA Razzak points out that if Bangladesh can grab even one-per cent share of Chinese imports, the country can earn $25 billion.
He suggested a strong focus on Chinese market to raise the country's exports.
President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters' Association (BGMEA) Faruque Hassan said that they are in talks with Chinese buyers on how to raise exports to China.
"Before pandemic, we had a series of discussions with them and we also invited some of the Chinese RMG entrepreneurs to set up plant in Bangladesh for exporting products back to Chinese market," he said.
China has a $322-billion RMG market, which is expanding, and experts believe that it can cross the $370-billion US market for apparel.
Bangladesh had China's knit imports and 8 per cent share of China's woven garment imports in FY2019.
According to the BGMEA president, the coronavirus pandemic put a brake on their drive for enhancing RMG export to China. The export can be raised by over one-billion dollars very soon.
"We are doing our research on picking the right products for Chinese market," the trade leader added.
Bangladesh's bilateral trade with China went up to 15 billion dollars in 2019 with exports accounting for $831 million that year. But the balance was more favourable towards Bangladesh when it exported goods worth $1 billion and imported goods worth $10 billion.
But, due to the pandemic, the trade decreased to $12 billion in FY20 where Bangladesh's export was $600 million to China.