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Tariff barriers hitting export to South Asia: Iftekhar

The Independent, Bangladesh

Tariff barriers hitting export to South Asia: Iftekhar

9 April 2008

By Staff Correspondent

Foreign adviser Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury has said export of Bangladesh’s commodities to its South Asian neighbours is facing hurdles because of tariff barriers and restrictions.

"Although Bangladesh’s share in the total intra-regional trade is 27 percent, its share in regional export is only 2.8 percent.

Our export to region is faced with a number of non-tariff and para-tariff barriers, port restrictions, complicated and cumbersome customs procedures.".

"The high level of protection clearly visible from long "sensible list" which are not open to preferential tariff, and rigidities in other structural and policy framework contradicts our desire to have a fully integrated South Asia," Iftekhar said at a seminar.

The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) organised the seminar titled "Regional Cooperation of South Asia: Benefits from SAFTA and the way ahead" at the BRAC Centre in the capital Tuesday.

"Clearly there is need to remove the hurdles that impede further integration of the region. SAFTA is a powerful tool through which we can bring about positive change in our countries.

"This would require deeper cuts in tariff rates, removal of tariff and non-tariff barrier, wider product coverage through reduction in the sensitive list, simplification of customs rules and banking procedures, mutual recognition arrangements and promoting cross-border investment," the foreign adviser said.

A joint report of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and United Nations Trade and Development Corporation (UNCTAD) on the benefits of SAFTA and its future was presented in the seminar. The report stressed a supportive overall policy framework for the promotion of transport and trade facilitation.

Bangladesh’s welfare gains, the report says, appear the highest with increase in global exports by a significant production increase of 5.5 percent in wearing apparel and 3 percent in leather. Output in chemicals, rubber, and plastics also rose by about 2 percent while global export went up by 10 percent, which is a validation of indications that Bangladesh is an emerging competitive producer in chemicals like pharmaceuticals, plastics and ceramics. India’s export gains from SAFTA are expected to be limited to a few agriculture sectors and the auto sector where it has relative comparative advantage.

Pakistan will be the main market for sugar exports in the region. Sri Lanka’s gains in the first phase of liberalisation are almost nil since, but this improves in the second phase when textiles see a growth of about 4 percent. Afghanistan, Bhutan, the Maldives and Nepal see good export growth in agriculture products and primary commodities with full liberalisation.

FBCCI president Annisul Huq said free trade is not possible if the free movement in South Asian region can be ensured. He said SAFTA would not be successful if all member countries do not get equal opportunity. Adviser to a former caretaker government Syed Manzur Elahi moderated the programme