The role of the commerce ministry has become more important than ever with Bangladesh getting recommended for an exit from LDC group in a few years. In an exclusive interview with the Daily Sun, Commerce Secretary Dr Md Jafar Uddin shared insights on the government’s strategies and ambitions regarding the country’s LDC graduation.
Despite some challenges, LDC graduation will create opportunities for Bangladesh and it has the capabilities to face the challenges, Commerce Secretary Dr Md Jafar Uddin has said.
“We are not frightened about LDC graduation as we have the potential and capacity for tapping those opportunities,” he told the Daily Sun on Wednesday in an exclusive interview.
Regarding the challenges of LDC graduation, the senior secretary said challenges lie in the preparation for LDC graduation.
“We will get the LDC facilities for the next five years until 2026. We had taken some preparation earlier for the graduation. We are now taking preparation for facing the challenges,” he clarified.
Bangladesh will need both product and market diversification as it is now dependent on a single product line as the RMG sector makes up 84 per cent of the country’s total exports, he said while speaking about the future strategies of the ministry.
“In this case, we are implementing the Export Competitiveness for Jobs (EC4J) to support product diversification that deals with light engineering--bicycle to television; leather sector; footwear and plastic sector,” the commerce secretary pointed out.“It will be done by following the TSC model. T for technology—if we want to diversify our products we have to make those competitive to which technology has to be updated. It is our approach,” he said.
S for skill—operating technology and human resource have to be developed. And C for compliance, which means social and environmental compliance, Dr Md Jafar Uddin explained.
“It will not work if industries are developed haphazardly or child labour is used there,” he said, adding that three manuals are being developed through the EC4J project in this regard.
Besides, four technology centres are being set up to help the country cope with the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution or other challenges of frequent technological changes, the commerce secretary informed.
Two more products—jute based and agro-based products are also been focused on. After the production streamlined, the ministry will focus on value addition for exports, he added.
“Bangladesh has a huge potential in agriculture. The sector is now booming. Fruit, fish and paddy production--- we will have to add value to them,” he said, adding: “Similarly jute is also a very promising sector in the environmental context.”
ICT, IT-enabled services, and BPO is also another potential sector. “There is no doubt that our children are talented.”
“We are trying to create links for marketing our ICT products through 21 commercial wings abroad. A project is being developed for this,” he told the Daily Sun.
The ministry of commerce is working on halal food products, which is another immensely potentials area. Currently, Bangladesh exports $1 billion worth of halal food products, which can be raised to $10 billion, Dr Jafar said.
The ministry is trying to contact Malaysia and Turkey for obtaining global standard halal products’ certification, he added.
“If we work on these issues, the graduation challenge of losing $5-$6 billion exports can be addressed. The country can earn $10 billion from halal products and $5 billion from the ICT sector, and another $5 billion from leather,” he hoped.
“Although light engineering has not been estimated, it has a bright prospect as well. The sector has not got that focus before. Now we are giving special importance to it.”
The ministry of commerce is also exploring the possibility of bilateral arrangements like Preferential Trade Agreements (PTA) and Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with other countries. Bangladesh already has signed a PTA with Bhutan.
The government is also trying to sign comprehensive economic partnership (CEPA) deals with large countries, especially with India for trade and service.
The Commerce Secretary said, “What are you doing about getting GSP+ facility in the EU market will be reviewed. Bangladesh and other LDCs are now seeking 10 years extension in existing GSP facility.”
If not available, there are other packages like GSP+ or GSP standard. These are changeable. Some work has to be done in terms of compliance, human rights and labour while meeting value addition conditions, he added.
About market diversifying, the secretary said they have adopted some strategies like establishing links with the South American common trade bloc MERCOSUR and CIS, Middle East and Africa –to export food and vegetables.
Regarding the commodity market, he said the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) has been able to maintain stability in the commodity market to a large extent.
He said TCB’s essential commodity market share has risen to 12 per cent from 2 per cent earlier and the number of TCB trucks has increased to 500 from 100 earlier.
Market monitoring by the ministry of commerce has been stepped up as well Department of National Consumer Rights (DNCRP) is now always in the field. Their 28 teams are working by rotation, which has been able to keep the market tamed this year, Dr Md Jafar Uddin.
“The ministry of commerce is also doing its own part along with the concerned agencies to ensure consumer rights and improve ease of doing business,” Dr Md Jafar Uddin said.