A much-needed move to sign FTAs/PTAs with potential countries and economic blocs apparently lacks pace, thereby holding back the inking of the deals due to a lukewarm response.
Although the government has since long made the initiative to sign such deals holding the potential for boosting trade, sources say, no 'significant progress' is in sight yet.
Bangladesh is on course to graduate from its least-developed country (LDC) status in 2026. Many developed countries will not continue duty-free facility in the post-LDC era, says an official.
"The authorities concerned cannot walk faster to sign FTA [free trade agreement] or PTA [preferential trade agreement] with any country quickly as there are many issues involved with the signing of such an agreement."
"Feasibility study comes first. Then we can decide on a deal. In fact, we'll sign FTA/PTA with a country only when it's financially and economically viable for our country," maintains the official.
Bilateral free-trade or preferential-trade pact is a matter of negotiations between two countries. No country does come forward to sign a deal if it goes against its interests.
"As a result, we are going slowly," he says as he explains the delays.
A commerce ministry official admits that the process of penning bilateral FTAs with some countries is progressing slowly.
The aims and objectives of FTAs are to attain zero-tariff facility between two signatories and also reduce trade barriers.
Signing FTAs with some countries may not be feasible for Bangladesh as it will cause a heavy revenue loss to it, according to trade officials.
The government is sincerely working on the FTA/PTA issue but in slow mode due to delays by the proposed countries, adds an official.
The process of signing FTAs with some countries is currently at the negotiating stage.
Discussions are ongoing with Indonesia, Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Thailand, Malaysia, China, Turkey, APTA, ASEAN, Australia, GCC, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, MERCOSUR and Singapore.
But the process is going on at a snail's pace, holding back the striking of the deals, sources concerned say.
Bangladesh cuts the name of Sri Lanka from the priority list of the countries for signing any deal due to the ongoing political turmoil there.
It has already conducted feasibility studies on possible FTA/PTAs with Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, China and the ASEAN bloc.
India, China, Australia and Singapore are potential partners of Bangladesh. So, it is trying to sign proposed deals with them within a short span of time.
The government also prioritises CEPA, RCEP and BIMSTEC for the purpose, according to another official.
First working group meeting has already been held between Bangladesh and the Eurasian Economic Commission early this year.
Accordingly, Bangladesh embassy in Moscow sent a formal request for initiation to sign an FTA with EAEU on January 13.
But Dhaka is yet to receive any response from the commission.
Bangladesh and Malaysia have agreed to start similar negotiations as they have nominated a chief negotiator regarding the issue.
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed during the Chinese president's Dhaka visit in October 2016 for doing a joint feasibility study on an FTA.
A report format of the proposed study has been agreed and finalised.
A term of reference was finalised and Turkey indicated the signing of a PTA. But Turkey is currently busy negotiating its entry into the EU.
Bangladesh could not start talks with APTA due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Dhaka already sent a letter to the ASEAN secretariat regarding a joint feasibility study for an FTA.
No move is underway to start negotiations with Australia. Bangladesh will organise a validation workshop to consider an FTA with Australia.
Bangladesh and Indonesia have already exchanged the lists of products. A PTA was due in the first half of 2021, but it failed to make way through the pandemic.
Recently, Jakarta has completed correlation table from HS 2017 to HS 2022 and requested Dhaka to reciprocate for carrying forward the process smoothly.
Commerce ministry has now decided to open CEPA talks with India soon with an eye to retaining in the new pact the facilities it enjoys under the SAFTA deal.
It has also decided to start negotiations to join Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to retain duty benefits.