Belarus holds bright prospects for Bangladesh trade

The two nation's prime ministers pledge to boost bilateral co-operation and deepen economic ties.

By Syed Tashfin Chowdhury for Khabar South Asia in Dhaka

December 04, 2012
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The Bangladesh government is forging a mutually beneficial friendship with Belarus that could bring sizeable trade benefits – including increased access to Belarus's neighbours, Kazakhstan and Russia.

  • The Belarus government promised duty-free market access to the Bangladeshi government in Dhaka in November meetings-- a move that would allow its ready-made garment industry a better chance to compete with other clothing exporters for the business of consumers like this Belarus woman at a 2010 goods bazaar in Minsk. [Viktor Drachev/AFP]

    The Belarus government promised duty-free market access to the Bangladeshi government in Dhaka in November meetings-- a move that would allow its ready-made garment industry a better chance to compete with other clothing exporters for the business of consumers like this Belarus woman at a 2010 goods bazaar in Minsk. [Viktor Drachev/AFP]

During November 12th talks between Belarus Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina at the latter's office in Dhaka, the two sides signed a slew of accords. They pledged co-operation in science, manufacturing, military technology and education.

A day before that, Minsk promised Dhaka that Bangladesh would soon get duty-free market access to Belarus – eliminating duties of 20 to 25% on Bangladeshi exports and potentially helping narrow a woeful trade imbalance between the two economies.

Belarus exported $87m in goods to Bangladesh during fiscal year 2011-12, while Bangladesh exported only $2.42m during the same period, according to Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) data.

The duty waiver could extend to Belarus customs partners Kazakhstan and Russia, if they approve it.

"Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are members of a single customs union and Bangladeshi products can enter the markets once Belarus provides duty-free access," Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed told Khabar South Asia. He was optimistic Moscow and Astana would agree to the move.

"The Belarus Prime Minister has declared it to Bangladesh already. It's just a matter of time before the official processes begin," he added.

A voracious market

A duty-waiver to Kazakhstan and especially Russia would be a huge boon for Bangladesh's export sectors, especially ready-made garments, which accounted for nearly 80% of The country's export earnings of $24.28 billion during the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

Mohammad Hatem Ali, owner of M B Knit Fashion in Fatullah, near Dhaka, describes how the ready-made garments sector would benefit. Ali, who employs over 700 workers, attended a four-day Russian trade fair from September 24th-28th.

"We received $10m worth of spot orders during those four days," Ali told Khabar. "One of us found a year-long $7.2m contract." He estimates the combined apparel market of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan is worth $10 billion annually.

New trade partners

Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), welcomed the deepening of ties with Belarus, anticipating a boost in Bangladesh exports.

"The volume of trade is likely to grow now, following these deals," he said.

"Belarus is rich in agricultural and mineral resources," Mohiuddin said. "They manufacture some of the best agricultural machineries and trucks, which can be imported by Bangladesh for its agricultural sector."

Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said the latest high-level meetings would likely lead to new investment. "Following the accords," Rahman told Khabar, "Belarus is likely to invest in Bangladesh and export the products manufactured here to neighbouring India and other destinations.

Delwar Hossain, professor of International Relations at Dhaka University, said it is imperative for Bangladesh to shift focus to transitional economies like Belarus as key markets – such as the United States and EU -- suffer residual effects of the global recession.

"Bangladesh has traditional linkage with Western and South Asian countries. But it is better for us to establish ties with emerging economies now to reap the benefits in the long run," he said.

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