The Indian envoy in Bangladesh yesterday urged the business community to increase the volume of cross-border commerce to minimise the trade gap between the two countries.
Harsh Vardhan Shringla, the Indian high commissioner in Bangladesh, went on to cite the Lafarge-Surma cement factory as a successful example of cross-border trade between Bangladesh and India.
The cement factory in Sunamganj works with raw materials supplied from the Indian state of Meghalaya.
“There is a chance to establish many more cross-border ventures between the two countries,” Shringla said, adding that Bangladeshi companies also have the potential to either export or establish plants in India.
For example, Bangladesh's Pran-RFL Group has a production plant in India and its products are doing well in the Indian market.
The acceptance of BSTI (Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution) certification by India for 21 Bangladeshi food items is a significant boost for trade between the two countries, he said.
Shringla's comments came at a two-day conference of the two countries' business community. A total of 51 Indian traders, importers, exporters, producers and processors are in Dhaka to explore business potential in Bangladesh.
The Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Indian ministry of commerce and the Indian Chamber of Commerce jointly organised the conference at the capital's Sonargaon Hotel.
Bangladesh has quite a large market in India, especially in the northeastern parts, for many of its products such as bricks, cement, processed food and food products, agro-based products, toiletries and cosmetics, said Industries Minister Amir Hossain Amu.
Over the years, the agribusiness sector in Bangladesh has improved its processing facilities. Bangladeshi agricultural products such as fruits, vegetables and spices have huge untapped potential, Amu said.
India's exports to Bangladesh increased from $1 billion in fiscal 2001-02 to about $6 billion in fiscal 2016-17, and according to rough estimates another $3 billion worth of goods are brought in informally, the minister said.
On the other hand, Bangladesh's exports to India hit roughly half a billion. So, the balance of trade between Bangladesh and India is heavily tilted in favour of India, he added.
In fiscal 2014-15, crops, livestock, fisheries and forest products accounted for about 16 percent of Bangladesh's total GDP and supported approximately 47 percent of the total population.
Bangladesh produces a variety of agricultural products such as rice, wheat, corn, legumes, fruits, vegetables, chicken meat, fish and seafood.
The processed food industry in Bangladesh accounts for approximately 12.3 percent of all manufacturing production value and employs 6 percent of the manufacturing labour force.
The sector is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises strongly linked to local production.
There are nearly 246 medium food manufacturing enterprises processing baked goods, confectionery items, fruits and vegetables, cereals, dairy goods, fruit juices and so on.
Given this, Bangladesh has huge investment prospects in areas of food processing for local and export markets like aquaculture and processed fish, halal foods, milk and dairy products, cold storage facilities, agricultural products including herbs, spices, nuts and pulses, Amu said.
Bangladesh has exported $153.4 million worth of processed food items in fiscal 2013-14.
FBCCI President Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin said Bangladesh is the third largest vegetable producer, fourth largest rice producer and fourth largest freshwater fish producer worldwide.
The private sector has taken the lead to transform the agricultural sector through value addition and expanding agricultural exports, which include fisheries and processed fruits and vegetables.
Bangladesh exports processed food and beverage worth over $900 million a year, 60 percent of which are shrimp and fish products, Mohiuddin said.
The implementation of the Bangladesh Bhutan India and Nepal agreement will remove the challenges of connectivity in the region, said Rajeev Singh, director general of the Indian Chamber of Commerce.
Abdul Matlub Ahmad, the immediate past FBCCI president, and Taskeen Ahmed, president of the India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also spoke.