The European Union has warned that it will restrict shipments of vegetables and fruits from Bangladesh if the country fails to ensure pest-free exports.
The warning comes in the face of rising incidents of pest detection in export consignment from Bangladesh, and fraudulence in phytosanitary certificates that confirm shipments have met certain requirements of importers.
The EU countries have found such certificates were fake or missing in a number of consignments, according to a letter sent to the government by the European Commission's Health and Consumers Directorate-General.
The EC said a ban will be imposed if corrective measures are not taken before September 30.
The bloc considers gourds, eggplants, citruses and amaranthus as critical commodities that contained harmful organisms.
"I fully understand that any restriction of trade may affect the economy of your country but exports of plants and plant products shall be done without compromising the health of European plants and agricultural sector," said Martin Seychell, deputy director general at the office of the Health and Consumers Directorate-General.
The European bloc earlier in February this year suspended imports of betel leaves from Bangladesh for bacterial contamination. The ban has recently been extended to June next year.
Export receipts from vegetables and fruits rose 15 percent year-on-year to $209 million in fiscal 2013-14, according to Export Promotion Bureau.
More than half of the exports are meant for the EU, mainly the United Kingdom, targeting the Bangladeshis living there. The Middle East is the second largest destination, according to an audit report by EU's food and veterinary office in 2013.
The EU countries detected harmful organisms in vegetables and fruits in 270 consignments between 2011 and 2014.
Some 211 consignments were detected with fake or no phytosanitary certificates during the period, according to the EC.
In response to the warning, the agriculture ministry has sent an action plan to the European authority, citing that it will make contract farming mandatory for the exporters.
The government has also suspended issuance of certificates for three exporters to stop fraudulent practices. In addition, the government is in the process of constructing a central warehouse for exportable fresh produce, according to the action plan.
The plant protection wing under the Department of Agricultural Extension has taken steps to increase the number of inspectors at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka to check every consignment before shipment.
The authority, with targets to establish 10 laboratories, is going to procure kits to quickly detect bacteria and viruses in the consignments, officials at the agriculture ministry said.
When asked, Momtazul Karim, director of the plant protection wing of the DAE, said no fake certificates were issued from his office.
He said an inter-ministerial meeting would be held to prevent frauds in issuing such certificates. "We have also taken actions against the wrongdoers."
SM Jahangir Hossain, president of Bangladesh Fruits, Vegetables & Allied Products Exporters' Association, blamed inadequate monitoring and vigilance by the government agencies at the airport for flaws in export consignments.
Dhaka Customs Commissioner Hossain Ahmed said they have recently strengthened surveillance at the airport and would take action if specific allegations are made.