Local suppliers are incapable of exploiting the full global potential of personal protective equipment (PPE) and face mask markets through exports for a lack of international-standard testing facilities in the local laboratories, said Salman F Rahman, adviser to the prime minister on private industry and investment, yesterday.
"We are trying to create testing facilities soon so that the local manufacturers can export the PPEs and masks in a high volume to grab the global market which has emerged," he said.
"We are in talks with some international testing companies for conducting tests locally."
The government is currently working to conduct tests of the exportable PPEs and masks under the industries ministry's accreditation body, since it has international recognition.
"If we can make our own accreditation body functional, soon we can export the PPEs and masks easily on a massive scale to the international markets," Rahman also said.
Bangladesh produces face masks of level 1 and 2 as per World Health Organization standards. But masks of level 3 and 4 need to be produced as their demand is high in international markets.
"Laboratory tests are a must for exporting the PPEs, masks and gowns of level 3 and 4. So we are trying to set up the testing facilities soon," said Rahman.
He was addressing a virtual meeting organised by the commerce ministry marking the signing of agreements for establishing two technical centres under an Export Competitiveness for Jobs (EC4J) Project.
The coronavirus pandemic has created a market for PPEs, masks, gowns, medical textiles and isolation fabrics worldwide worth a few billions of dollars.
Some local garment manufacturing companies have already started exporting those as demand has soared worldwide.
The adviser was critical of the fact that only the garments sector has been expanding exports every year whereas some other sectors were failing to do so despite receiving cash incentives from the government.
The garment sector's contribution in exports amounted to some 85 per cent but other sectors are failing to perform well although they are getting the incentive every year, he said.
The government is going to establish three state-of-the-art technology centers and one design and technology centre for Bangladeshi manufacturing sectors which would work on the adoption and diffusion of modern technology to raise productivity.
For this purpose, Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (Beza) and Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority (BHTPA) have allotted two plots in favour of the EC4J Project to establish the technology centres.
The EC4J project officials yesterday signed the relevant agreements with Beza and the BHTPA for establishing the technical centres.
The setting up of job-oriented training centres will fulfill the skills gaps in different sectors, said Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi.
He said exports of the leather and leather goods sector were nearing $1 billion as the tanneries had been shifting to a new estate in Savar.
This initiative of the government will mainly supply technical knowhow and skilled manpower, which will enable local exporters into becoming more competitive globally, said Zunaid Ahmed Palak, state minister for ICT Division.
For instance, some 20 lakh refrigerators are sold in Bangladesh in a year but many companies cannot go for producing this electronic home appliance because of a lack of skilled and trained people.
These technical centres will produce the skilled manpower and convey other technical knowledge in ICT business and hardware issues, he said.
The technical centre inside Bangabandhu High Tech Park will also facilitate the creation of manpower for producing semiconductors and biotechnology and health technology products, he said.
Md Obaidul Azam, director of the EC4J project, said apart from plastic goods, IT products and light engineering, leather and leather goods and footwear design would be focused in another technical centre for which the government has already selected a place in Gazipur.
The project objective is to contribute to export diversification and generate more and better jobs in targeted sectors. In line with this objective, the ministry of commerce is implementing the EC4J project with funding support from World Bank.
The project will support private sector companies in these targeted sectors to address some key constraints they face in accessing export markets, enhancing productivity, improving environmental, social and quality standards, and collective infrastructure facilities.
Md Jafar Uddin, commerce secretary, and Paban Chowdhury, executive director of Beza, also spoke.