FOLLOWING some 14 per cent export growth in exports that brought US$8.5 billion in the last fiscal year, the government has projected this growth to be higher, at 17 per cent, to fetch US$10.11 billion in the current fiscal year. The target appears to be an ambitious one. The total export earnings, for the first time, has been targeted to cross the double digits. But considering the sustainable export growth that has been achieved in recent years, the target for the current fiscal looks not impractical or unrealisable. With supports coming from the government and more activism on the part of businesses, it should be possible to reach the higher export target well on time.
The need or significance of higher export activities for the country should be obvious. Exports and remittances from the overseas workers are seen as the main instruments for replenishing the foreign currency reserve to be able to adequately carry out import operations and maintain a sound or acceptable balance of payments position. Thus, greater exports contribute to the retention of macro-economic stability. At a time, when the other major cushion for the economy -- foreign aid -- is seen to be stagnant, the attaining of export target assumes greater significance for the stabilisation of the macro-economy.
It is noteworthy that exporters on their own have been showing considerable dynamism and, as a result, it was possible to maintain the higher export performance successively in recent years. For example, the operators in the virgin fields have done remarkably well in exporting relatively non-traditional products like pharmaceutical products, vegetables, ornaments, agro-processed foods, polythene bags, iron chains, motor parts, melamine table wares, bicycles, etc. With more efforts and local supports, they would certainly be in a position to much increase their market shares abroad. The government should take an interest in the ground-level requirements of these economic operators involved in the budding export sub-sectors to find out how they can be assisted in a planned manner to help raise substantially their export volumes and earnings. Even in a major traditional sector, jute goods, prospects have brightened. The uptrends in export orders for jute goods suggest that a full revival in this sector is possible, provided government moves fast to exploit the opportunity. State-operated jute mills were closed down earlier as a consequence of the stagnant position that prevailed then in exporting their products. But these mills can all be opened and should be made fully operational -- if necessary under divestment of their management activities -- at the fastest to make the most of the present export opportunities for their products.
Exporters submitted a list of demands to the government long ago. The demands were not exclusively in their own narrow interests. Acting on them positively can boost the entire export performance and hence the national economy in the process. Availability of electricity is a serious problem for many export-oriented industries. There is no reason why the relevant ministries cannot work out a plan to keep the export-oriented industries well supplied with electricity round the clock under some kind of preferential arrangement even under the on-going difficulties in power production. Then, the government can also consider the sale of electricity to consumers in export-oriented industries at a concessional price. Customs procedures can be eased to help exporters and port-handling time can be reduced to facilitate faster and more competitive export activities. It should be also possible to scale down the interest rates on loans taken by exporters. Export-oriented industries can be given yet more fiscal incentives and other facilities. The functioning of the trade or economic wings of Bangladeshi missions abroad should be much improved in support of export activities. Such wings can be set up at missions where the same do not exist but which would be prospective. The government needs to do all of these things and more, in a package, to pave the ground for stepped-up export activities.