India and China have been among the largest trade partners of Bangladesh over the decades. In the changing backdrop of global business dynamics and particularly in the perspective of raging US-China trade war, it is time to review anew the whole gamut of our bilateral trade with India and China with a view to levelling the existing mounting trade imbalance to a tolerable limit which once continues to persist for a longer spell may scuttle our voyaging business vessel meant for economic development.
Even though Indian and Chinese commodities and services have been incessantly flooding our domestic markets, we are yet to equip ourselves that strong to combat this commodity influx precisely because of our poor domestic productivity, inadequate infrastructural facilities, our vulnerable standing on technological back foot and above all our myopic policies. Since addressing these formidable issues clearly calls for time, we have to brave the present lopsided and inclement tripartite business putting in our best intellectual resources. To reap the optimum business benefits we have to customise and revise our trade policies continuously for addressing the changing business needs of the time in the most professional way. For striking a solid edge in business, we have to activate business diplomacy pouring in it our fullest intellectual potentialities.Unlike the past when politics dictated economic development, the present global political realities are hugely governed by the concerns of trade and business. We may feel dissatisfied with the mounting trade imbalance with both India and China, still then we can hardly deny our trade relations with them for geo-political, economic, cultural and other factors. Bangladesh maintains $6.6 billion export-import trade with India of which India exports goods and services worth $6.1 billion whereas Indian imports from Bangladesh figure only $451 million. Bangladesh’s bilateral trade with China, too, is massively tilted against Bangladesh. The only and the best possible option left for Bangladesh is not to be sentimental and hasty but to patiently pursue effective diplomatic negotiations so that the country can explore newer marketing possibilities for both traditional and non-traditional Bangladeshi commodities in India and China as well.
Because of our strictly limited facilities at the moment, we can ill-afford to put up a competitive trade challenge to both India and China. Despite our unavoidable limitations on the ground, the craft of sustained diplomatic mission in bilateral business deals will surely help gain certain practical edges in our export promotion channel. It is hardly possible to offset the mounting trade imbalance with China and India but it is quite possible to reduce the galloping trade deficit to a minimum possible degree through the effectively guided operations of business diplomacy. Since business diplomacy primarily demands intensive and integrated involvement of government machineries and missions in striking business deals, diplomatic missions of Bangladesh in the overseas countries will have to be detailed with official responsibilities of promoting Bangladeshi goods in the overseas markets.
Due to new global trade equation, ideologically polar opposite countries like India and China are having amazing trade links with Bangladesh and happen to be her major development partners now. The philosophy of profit and business promotion is widely believed to be the contributory factor which is why these otherwise belligerent countries are now fighting with each other in the battle of business which was once supposed to be fought with arms and ammunitions. In this battle of business, in fact, both India and China are exploiting business diplomacy to the limit in gaining edge over each other.
Our next-door neighbour India happens to be our largest trade partner precisely because of the geographical proximity. The volume of bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh in the financial year 2017-2018 is $9 billion and India exports goods and services of $9.1 billion while Indian imports from Bangladesh figures only $900 million. With well-built vast infrastructural facilities and enviably huge productivity, Bangladesh is hardly at par with India in bilateral trade. Along with goods and raw materials, Bangladeshi people purchase medical, tourism and other services of astonishingly huge amount. Our disappointingly lower productivity, loosely built infrastructure and above all our fragile and ill-defined business diplomacy have set out our bilateral trade equation with India in a diametrically unfavourable term of imbalance.
China has been increasingly emerging as the biggest investment giant in the mega development projects of Bangladesh and has already committed $31 billion investment packages that include installation of heavy machineries like setting up of coal-fired power plants, building rail and road links, installation of water purification plants etc. China alone funds $3 billion in the 3.7 billion Padma Bridge rail links project. In addition, China has proposed investment offer in installing a 2.6 Giga watt. Power plant in Chittagong, which is the single biggest ever investment proposal so far in the country. Also, China has already offered to exploit to the limit the facilities in the newly created Special Economic Zones. Although Bangladesh will be benefited hugely from these mega development projects along with China, it is clearly disheartening for Bangladeshis to look at the disappointingly tilted Chinese import statistics from Bangladesh which has dropped further to 26.49 in the FY-2017-2018.
China holds out vast market potentialities for leather and leather goods, footwear, jute and jute goods along with many non-traditional items. Absence of integrated diplomatic backup efforts, poor negotiation skills of the Bangladeshi exporters, policy inadequacies, lack of business professionalism etc., Bangladesh miss the mark in banking huge sum of assured revenues from exporting these items.We have to practise business diplomacy in overseas business deals both consistently and persistently instead of making it just a catch word in discussions and seminars. A separate business office has to be set up in the premises of all Bangladeshi embassies and diplomatic missions abroad under the direct supervision of the respective ambassadors and high commissioners. The officials working at the help desks of these offices will have to be made available on their toes round the clock to lend support to Bangladeshi entrepreneurs and businessmen. In addition, this office must arrange Bangladeshi fairs with exportable Bangladeshi items in major cities of the host countries round the year. Once we operate our business diplomacy in right earnest with, our honest efforts will, to be sure, help boost our export revenues and reduce trade imbalance with our major trade partners like China and India.
The writer is an Assistant Professor of English, Bogura Cantonment Public School and College.