LIBERALISATION of trade has opened up new opportunities for the expansion of trade and created, at the same time, new challenges for a resource-poor and technology-starved country like Bangladesh. Yet, in spite of all hurdles, export sector in comparison with other sectors of the economy has been doing well and its earning for the first time in the country's history crossed the $10 billion mark in the fiscal 2005-06. This was no mean achievement if seen in the context of the prevailing cut-throat competition in the global market, particularly in apparel exports. Bangladesh, belying all speculations, has increased its apparel exports following the phase-out of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement (MFA). The Bangladesh apparel sector deserves kudos for its achievement in the face of challenges from more efficient and cost-effective producers such as China, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Unfortunately, the frozen food sector -- the second largest export revenue earner, having all the potentials, could not produce success stories similar to that of the apparel sector. The sector has been progressing virtually at a very slow pace and the exporters are to blame themselves for it. Not only the per acre yield of shrimp -- the main frozen food export item -- is low compared to other countries exporting the same, but also the quality has often come under question. The EU countries and the USA import more than 90 per cent of the Bangladesh frozen food. But very often the buyers do complain about its quality and incidences of sending bank shrimp consignments are common. This paper in its lead story last Monday said the EU buyers during last seven months had refused to accept 25 shrimp consignments from Bangladesh because of large-scale presence of Nitro-furan, an antibiotic used by the shrimp farmers, and sent those back. The return of the consignments valued at Tk. 500 million had not only caused financial loss to the exporters concerned but also to the country. But there is something more than financial loss. The consumers in the developed economies, including the EU and the USA, are very health-conscious and attach importance to quality of the products they consume or use everyday. Under the circumstances, Bangladesh frozen food products might start losing market in these countries because of consumers' resistance.
The EU sends teams of experts to see for themselves the quality of exportable frozen foods in Bangladesh. Such teams from time to time had extended valuable suggestions on quality aspects. The government and the frozen food exporters have made some progress in improving the quality. But what the country is lacking is a few well-equipped testing laboratories. In spite so many complaints about the presence of Nitro-furan in shrimp consignments over the last few years, the government only recently has taken steps to import the equipment that can detect Nitro-furan. The exporters of frozen foods now have to get the samples of their shipments tested in Singapore to detect Nitro-furan. With a view to avoiding this trouble, some unscrupulous exporters have allegedly been sending shrimp consignments without Nitro-furan test and, in the process, causing substantial damage to the reputation of the country. If such irregularities continue, the country faces the risk of losing its entire frozen food market. The government must immediately establish, at least, a couple of well-equipped quality testing laboratories in the country and the frozen food exporters' association, in addition to ensuring exports of quality frozen foods, needs to take immediate punitive actions against its members involved in sending shrimp consignments without Nitro-furan test.