Nepal, an import dependent neighbour, has emerged as a potential export destination for Bangladeshi products especially pharmaceuticals, consumers goods and electronics items.
Stakeholders and exporters think simplification of the export process and reducing tax burdens can boost trade with the Himalayan country.
According to Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) data, exports to Nepal stood at $47.4 million in FY2016-17, up by 165%, from the last fiscal, which was $17.88 million.
On the other hand, import from Nepal is nearly $10 million in the same period.
According to data from the Nepal Ministry of Commerce, despite being a close neighbour Bangladesh was the 22nd largest source of imports for the country in 2017, far behind countries like South Africa and Australia.
Bangladesh currently exports vegetables, fruits, electrical and electronic equipment, motorcycle, beverages, woven and knit garments, plastics goods, pharmaceuticals, furniture, juice and other consumer goods.
In 2017, Nepal spent the most on imports of fuel oil, coal, construction material, mobile phones, motorcycles, rice, corn, cooking oil, gold and silver.
To meet local demands, Nepal depends largely on imports. India is now dominating the Nepali market. But since Nepal is looking for alternatives to replace Indian goods, Bangladesh has an enormous opportunity to grow.
“Nepal as a market has great potential for Bangladeshi products. Walton is exporting international standard home appliances,” Roquibul Islam Rakib, head of international marketing of Walton, said.
Every year, demand for Walton appliances is growing and the local brand is registering an estimated 80% of growth in sales, said Rakib.
Besides home appliances, Walton is planing to export its locally made laptops and desktop computers, monitors and other accessories to Nepal, he added.
“In the beginning it was difficult to make people understand about Bangladeshi products. Now, they like them very much as the products ensure better service,” said Nawshaba Ansari, CEO of Rida Incorporated Pvt Ltd, sole distributor of Walton in Nepal.
“Right now, we have 200 agents across the country and this year we have sold about 3,500 refrigerators,” she said.
She hoped Walton will soon become a leading brand in Nepal.
Besides electronics products, consumer goods and furniture are also potential products, which has already created buzz among the Nepalese consumers opening new export avenue.
“We started exporting furniture to Nepal in April last year and customers have accepted our products for their unique design,” Firoz Al Mamun, head of marketing and sales of Hatil Furniture, told the Dhaka Tribune.
Nepal does not have the manufacturing base of quality and well designed furniture. So, there is enormous opportunity for Bangladeshi manufacturers. What exporters need is policy support including making customs easier and an agreement to enjoy duty free access to market, he said.
“Considering the demand, we are expanding the size and capacity of our showroom and planning to open a new one,” Mamun added.
In the last fiscal, Bangladesh earned $193,231 from the export of furniture and lighting.
“Nepal consumers products market is very potential for Bangladesh as they have almost a similar taste and culture like ours,” PRAN-RFL Group Marketing Director Chowdhury Kamruzzaman said.
There is huge opportunity for Bangladesh to export medicine to Nepal as the doctors especially those who study in Bangladeshi medical colleges prescribe Bangladeshi products.
In the last fiscal year, Bangladesh earned $2.22 million exporting pharmaceutical products, which shows a rapid growth.
What is needed to boost exports
In exploring the market and tapping the vast export opportunity, manufacturers need an export-friendly policy support and removal of tax burden.
“Tax rate and border crossing remain main challenges for the exporters. If the government simplifies the shipment process the export to Nepal will a see a sharp rise. We want to grow there and the market is in favour of Bangladesh. What needs is to offer a better facility,” said Kamruzzaman.
Nawshaba, an importer of electronics products, said they have to pay higher import duty, which is a challenge for expanding market share. She urged governments of both countries to make import easier by reducing import duty and non-tariff barriers.
“Bangladeshi goods have made a good start here. Even, I myself like Bangladeshi products especially the Pran's consumer goods,” Mahesh Basnet, a parliament member of Nepal told the Dhaka Tribune during a recent meeting with a group of journalists.
“Historically, we are dependent on India and in 2016 we faced trouble in importing goods from the country. Nepal is looking for an alternative source and Bangladesh can be the first choice as it has quality products at a reasonable price,” he said.
Mahesh, also a former industry minister, said he would talk to business people on boosting bilateral trade and take necessary steps to ensure more import from Bangladesh.
Mashfee Binte Shams, Bangladesh's ambassador to Nepal, said Bangladeshi products are very price-competitive in Nepal and exporters can take the advantage to grab market share.
But, the consumers are not familiar with the products. So, the exporters along with the local partners have to take steps to brand Bangladesh products, he added.
On the challenges, the envoy said that there is higher tax in importing some of the goods. We are trying to remove the tax burden through negotiation between commerce ministry of two countries.