Explore the ME market for export

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The Middle East region comprising more than a dozen states — often seen as a potential market for Bangladeshi produce — has yet to become what it could be. Although Bangladesh has been exporting to countries in the region for some time now, the value and volume of exports appear to be far below its capabilities. Undoubtedly, one of the main characteristics of these markets which should have made them a target destination of dozens of products is the migrant population of Bangladesh living in these countries as well as those of the subcontinent whose tastes and preferences of consumers are more or less similar to those of Bangladeshis. Observers say the lack of market exploration and methodical research is hampering the development of 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, clothing, pharmaceuticals make up the bulk of the export list. There is no bilateral or regional trade agreement with these countries, which many believe is the reason why the volume of exports has not increased to the expected level. In addition, Bangladeshi exporters often face non-tariff barriers as the export is done in a disorganized manner.

The issues were raised during a webinar held in the capital last week, where speakers highlighted the need for a roadmap for increased market access in the region. The webinar titled “Shaping Business Landscape: Economic Cooperation of Middle East & Bangladesh” jointly organized by the Ministry of Commerce and the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) focused on exploring Middle Eastern markets, the diversification of RMG products and the improvement of access to halal food and fresh vegetables.

Currently, about three percent of Bangladesh’s exports go to ME markets, which by any reasonable standard is far too less than the country can export to the region. While vegetables occupy a large part of the tiny export volume, there are many opportunities to further increase vegetable exports. As for ready-to-wear, there have not yet been any notable exports to the region. One of the important commodities that seems to offer good prospects for Bangladesh in ME markets is halal food, especially halal meat. There was a trend to increase the market share of halal foods before the pandemic, and some consignments reached markets in the UAE and a few other Gulf states, but procedural requirements such as maintaining compliance protocols strict pre-shipment deterred export progress. In addition, there is no designated certification body in the country in this regard. These problems must be adequately addressed. Tapping into ME markets requires a methodical market to facilitate the exploration of new markets, especially niche ones for many Bangladeshi products. With the country’s economy recovering rapidly, it is time for the relevant authorities to act in a concerted manner to set the right direction for boosting exports to ME.

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