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Press Release: Enhancing Trade in Agri- Horticulture Products between North East India and Bangladesh

Brief Report and Press Release

 

Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 31, 2019:  “The research community and private players need to provide policymakers with specific and pin-pointed inputs for policy change to help facilitate better trade in agri-horticultural products among Bangladesh and India” observed Mr. A.H.M. Ahsan, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Commerce, Government of Bangladesh. He was speaking at a Consultation workshop titled “Enhancing Trade in Agri-horticulture Products between North East India and Bangladesh organised jointly by Asian Confluence, a Shillong based Indian Thinktank and Unnayan Shamannay, Dhaka, on July 31, 2019 in Dhaka. He also stressed on the need to remove port restrictions and other non-tariff barriers that still exist as hurdles to higher trade in agri-horti products.

The consultation workshop aimed to deliberate on the bottlenecks to existing and potential trade between Bangladesh and North East India on agri-horticulture products. The idea was to talk about specific products/group of products that have existing market demand and examine what specific challenges that exists to their trade and what are the tackling mechanisms. The larger agenda was to explore the idea of creating agri-horti value chains in the sub-region that can align with market demand.  

Prof. A. K. Enamul Haque, Professor, East West University, Dhaka, while welcoming the participants shared that this joint effort by Asian Confluence and Unnayan Shamannay, was to take on from similar work and initiatives done earlier and see how tangible and on-ground results could be achieved in terms of enhancing trade in agri-horticultural trade between Bangladsh and North East India.

Mr. Prithviraj Nath, Senior Fellow, Asian Confluence, shared that the idea of a focused consultation on facilitating agri-horti value chains in the sub-region had emerged from Shillong Dialogue 2018, a yearly initiative by the Asian Confluence, where a few potential products for regional value chains were identified by a regional team. The present workshop in Dhaka was to validate the realistic market potential of these earlier identified products and also revise the list based on inputs from private players, experts and government, he added. He further shared that a similar workshop will be organised in Shillong, Meghalaya, India, with participation from entrepreneurs, private players, officials and experts from Meghalaya and North East to talk about trade related hurdles that they face.  These two workshops are envisaged as a run-up to the Shillong Dialogue 2019, slated to be organised in Shillong later in October this year, which will take inputs from both these workshops to come up with specific takeaways and interventions for identified products so as to tangibly contribute to enhancing the trade on those agri-horticultural products within this sub-region.

 

Md. Masuk Sadiq, Member, National Board of Revenue, Government of Bangladesh, shared that one of the hurdles to better trade in agri-horticulture goods was the absence of Plant Quarantine officials in many ports and further shared that it becomes difficult for the establishment to provide manpower at every port given resource constraints and if the research community and private sector can help understand the existing or future potential of specific trade corridors and ports for agri-horti products that it may be easier to facilitate trade on these commodities. In this context, he shared that by 2023 trade flows will be smoother aat ports once the National Single Window becomes operational.

Mr. Sudhir Chandra Nath, Business Director, AEI Seeds, Bangladesh, said that there are three drivers to facilitating trade in agri-horti products, viz. policy, technical and market driven factors, which have to align to make it feasible. He further shared their experience of promoting seeds trade and opined that finished agri-produce related facilitation is easier given that seeds need long drawn trials to be promoted across borders.

Mr. Manoj Kumar Roy, former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Commerce, Government of Bangladesh and an eminent expert on this matter, welcomed the idea of the workshop and shared that a similar study undertaken some time ago had identified some possible products from Bangladesh’s perspective and based on that he suggested betel-leaf and Mango could be looked at as possible products for export from Bangladesh.

Md. Ahmedul Kabir, Manager, PRAN Exports Ltd., shared that given the unpredictability of cross-border movement of perishable products, including agri-horti products, and the long delays that are faced at times, the company usually sticks to finished product trade across borders while procuring the raw material from within Bangladesh. He shared that if there could be expedited movement of perishables across borders, the company can procure from anywhere depending on market mechanisms and seasonality.

Ms. Afsana Hossain, Field Officer, BSTI, Dhaka, stressed the need for market-driven agro-produce study to understand the quantum of production and market demand of specific products across the region. She also shared regarding the important cooperation efforts between India and Bangladesh regulatory authorities and testing institutions and pointed out that it is important to keep trade-barrier discussions specific and outcome oriented. She also stressed the need to involve relevant officials from relevant institutions so as to sustain the tempo of such dialogues and lead to tangible action.

Md. Nazrul Islam, General Manager, ACI Godrej Ltd., shared that their company has demand for fish and animal feed from Tripura, but cannot export due to regulatory hurdles. He also shared that other modes of transport, viz. railways and waterways need to be explored for transporting goods across the sub-region.

Md. Shafiqul Akhtar, Managing Director, Krishibid Seed Ltd., said that it is important to start with one product as a pilot so that other products can follow a similar pathway and ultimately lead to a more thriving business across borders.

Prof. Haque, shared the critical importance of looking at the seasonality of produce across borders and territories to understand the demand-supply factors for specific products. He cited the case of chilly where within Bangladesh itself the production varies across seasons and the country runs a shortfall during the monsoon months given flooding situations in the country and can explore procuring the same from North East India during that period. In response to Mr. Sadiq’s concern regarding lack of information on possible product flows through specific trade corridors and ports, he opined that one way of tackling this issue could be look at studying the flow of informal trade in agri-horticultural goods across borders which can help understand trends in product flows and hence help in identifying corridors that have thriving flows and additionally help in formalizing such informal trade flows. He also shared that looking at the product flows in the presently running Border Haats along India-Bangladesh borders could be one way to  understand which products are most highly traded across the borders.

Dr. Atiur Rahman, former Governor, Bangladesh Bank and Chairperson, Unnayan Shamannay, highlighted the need for market assessment of specific products and also exploring available financial incentive schemes to promote agri-horti business across the borders. He laid equal stress on capacity building of testing institution and higher people-to-people contact within the region to help build better relationships, both business and otherwise, to lead to better regional commerce and prosperity.

The workshop identified a total of eight products that have potential for trade between Bangladesh and North East India, viz. Potato, Betel Leaf, Mango (seasonal) from Bangladesh, oranges, spices like ginger and turmeric from North East and chilly, that can flow to either side of the border based on seasonal availability in the respective climatic zones.

The workshop had active participation from government officials, private players, experts, civil society and media from across Dhaka.  Among those present were, Mr. B.M, Julfikar Ali, Commercial Executive, High Commission of India, Dhaka, Md. Tanveer Islam, GM, Export, PRAN Group, Dr. Monirul Islam, Bangladesh Farm & Vegetables Exporters’ Association, Rizwana Islam, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, representatives from Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Daily Jugantor, Financial Express, SATV, Ittefaq, and others.

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For more please contact: Prithviraj Nath, Senior Fellow, Asian Confluence, Kolkata, India, (
prithviraj.nath@asianconfluence.org; +91-9830481370)