Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs) have become a very big concern for the bilateral as well as regional trade especially in South Asia. Eight member-countries of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) are trading less among themselves as a regional group compared to the rest of the world. In fact, intra-regional trade in this region is still 5.0 per cent of its international trade. While tariff barriers have descended significantly, it is the some of the NTMs those appear as Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) in the regional trade. Thus, dealing with NTMs and removing NTBs become a major challenge for the SAARC countries.
To overcome the challenge, some long-term regional measures have been taken and more are already planned under the framework of SAARC Trade Promotion Network (TPN). One of the measures is policy advocacy. In this connection, SAARC TPN has published a 'Policy Advocacy Strategy for Intra-Regional Trade: Dealing with NTMs in South Asia.' It is actually a strategy paper, specific for Bangladesh, prepared by Dr Selim Raihan, a professor of economics at the University of Dhaka.
The strategy paper, published in an octavo book format, briefly discussed the NTMs in Bangladesh as well as in South Asia and suggested a guideline for designing policy advocacy in this regard. As it is already acknowledged by all that trade in SAARC region will continue to suffer due to the presence of NTMs, a consistent mechanism is must to deal with the NTMs.
To put it simply, NTMs are official policy measures on export and import, other than ordinary customs tariffs, that have potential effect on international trade in goods. It includes wide range of measures including technical regulations, standards, customs procedures and others. Non-Tariff barriers (NTBs) are generally some of the NTMs when improperly applied to restrict or discourage export or import. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has prepared a detail classification of NTMs.
Exporters and importers in SAARC countries have long been complaining about the problems of uneven and fluctuating standards, inadequate port infrastructure and discrimination in product labelling and packaging. Many more things are also in the list. So, they are seeking policymakers' interventions to settle the problems. SAARC TPN, a network of 27 key public bodies and private organisations in South Asia, is working to deal with the issue in a coordinated manner. Earlier, the platform published 'NTMs in South Asia: Assessment and Analysis.' It is a comprehensive study book with database of NTMs in South Asia. Dr Selim Raihan, along with Dr Mostofa Abid Khan and Mr Shaquib Qureshi, edited the book.
The current endeavour is a kind of follow-up work of the previous book as it focuses on dealing mechanism of NTMs. Once the detail of NTMs is available, it is time to do a well planned policy advocacy to deal with the issue. According to author: "Policy advocacy is the process of negotiating and mediating a dialogue through which influential networks, opinion leaders, and ultimately, decisions makers take the ownership of the advocates' ideas, evidences and proposals and subsequently act upon them. " (P-2).
In the paper, the author briefly presents the scenario of intra-regional trade in SAARC and review of existing studies and analyses of NTMs in the region. He then outlines the methodology of developing the policy advocacy strategy which includes: identifying major stakeholders, understanding the salient features of NTMs and major NTM issues of the exporters, creating policy advocacy group and developing action plan for policy advocacy. For preparing the strategy paper, the author consulted with several stakeholders of the SAARC countries.
But, what the policymakers have to do while dealing with NTMs? According to the author: "The policymakers need to hear very clear analyses, information and updated data on NTMs in the country and the region as a whole. These need to be relevant along with concrete examples for which effective measurable actions can be undertaken." (P-19). On the other hand, to make the policy advocacy a success, "The policy advocacy group will have to produce credible analyses, supported by data and reliable information which the policymakers will find useful." (P-19)
The book is basically a guide to facilitate the policy advocacy in Bangladesh to deal with NTMs. Those who needs to know more on NTMs in South Asia, have to go through this book along with the previous one titled 'NTMs in South Asia: Assessment and Analysis.'
Moreover, Bangladesh has already formed a policy advocacy group. Country's apex trade body, Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) is leading the initiative. Thus, implementation of the suggestions of the paper has already started.