Bhutan eyes 25% hike in trade with Bangladesh in 2022

The country still enjoys trade surplus with Bangladesh

As Dhaka signed preferential trade agreement (PTA) with Thimphu last year, and the Covid-19 pandemic has improved in recent times, Bhutan now sees a 25% jump in bilateral trade with Bangladesh next year.

Kencho Thinley, commercial counsellor of the Bhutanese Embassy in Dhaka expressed this view while talking to Dhaka Tribune on Sunday.

“With the PTA signed last year, and the improving pandemic situation, we are expecting a 25% jump in bilateral trade with Bangladesh in 2022,“ the official said.

Bangladesh has listed 18 products and 16 more products to be brought under the PTA soon, while Bhutan listed 90 products in the list and 10 more in the pipeline.

Bhutan enjoys trade surplus with Bangladesh. In 2019, it exported goods valued at $81.27 million to Bangladesh, while Bangladesh exported goods valued at $8.33 million to Bhutan.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic hit bilateral trade in 2020, which resulted in a nearly 35% drop. 

Bhutan exported $52.73 million to Bangladesh, while the latter exported goods worth $5.87 million.

Bangladesh on December 6, 2020 had signed its maiden PTA with Bhutan, which Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi and Bhutanese Economic Affairs Minister Lyonpo Loknath Sharma signed on behalf of their respective sides.

The PTA with Bhutan was the first such bilateral agreement Bangladesh signed with any country since its independence in 1971.

The signing was held December 6 to mark the day in 1971, when Bhutan was the first country in the world to recognize Bangladesh’s independence.

Under the PTA, some 100 Bangladeshi products get duty-free access to Bhutan.

These include baby clothes and clothing accessories, men's trousers and shorts, jackets and blazers, jute and jute goods, leather and leather goods, dry cell battery, fan, watch, potato, condensed milk, cement, toothbrush, plywood, particle board, mineral and carbonated water, green tea, orange juice, pineapple juice, and guava juice.

Meanwhile, 34 Bhutanese products get duty-free access to the Bangladeshi market include orange, apple, ginger, fruit juice, milk, natural honey, wheat or meslin flour, homogenized preparations of jams, fruit jellies, marmalades, food preparations of soybeans, mineral water, wheat bran, quartzite, cement clinker, limestone, wooden particle boards, and wooden furniture.

Both countries will be able to increase the number of items gradually through consultation.

The bilateral trade volume of the two countries was just $12.77 million in the fiscal year 2008-09 with Bangladesh’s exports to Bhutan amounting to $0.61 million while it imported goods worth $12.16 million.

The bilateral trade volume reached $49.65 million in the fiscal year 2018-19 out of which Bangladesh’s exports to Bhutan totalled $7.56 million against imports of $42.09 million.

Tourism prospects

On promoting tourism in Bangladesh, Kencho Thinley said that Bangladesh could attract a good number of Bhutanese tourists by developing and improving Buddhist tourist places.

Bangladesh was the birthplace of some Buddhist religious leaders who preached religion in the region, he also said.

The Bhutanese officials also informed that his country was also a popular tourist destination for Bangladeshis.

Some 13,000 Bangladesh visited Bhutan in 2019.

Javed Ahmed, CEO of Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB), told Dhaka Tribune that Bangladesh was working hard on promoting its Buddhist Circuit to attract Buddhist tourists. 

The government was constructing high-quality hotels and motels in Bogra and Bagerhat and improving the environment to woo Buddhist tourists, he added.

The matter is also being discussed regularly at the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) meeting held among member states—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. 

The matter was also discussed in the recent Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) meetings in Dhaka.