Exports of shrimp and frozen fish to the European Union (EU) market rose to Tk47.03bn last year, almost double the 2009 exports figure, as the government took stricter steps to maintain quality and control contamination.
“The success we achieved has come due to the decision of the EU in November 2011 to withdraw the embargo of 20% compulsory test on frozen food items including shrimp and other fish items entering its market,” fisheries and livestock Minister Abdul Latif Bishwas told the Dhaka Tribune.
The minister blamed unscrupulous exporters for creating trouble by exporting shrimp and fisheries items containing heavy metals and chemical contamination.
He also said the EU authorities even closed its observation book for the Bangladeshi frozen food items as the officials concerned were satisfied with the measures the government recently took following complaints.
“It has created a possibility for Bangladesh to be the lone Red-Alert-free country in Asia that are exporting frozen fisheries items to the EU. The export of fisheries items will increase further unless the exporters create any obstruction in this crucial export sector,” the minister declared.
The compulsory tests for frozen food items is still effective for India, Thailand, Myanmar and the other countries in Asia who export fish products to the EU, said officials.
According to the ministry data, Bangladesh exported shrimp and fisheries items to EU countries worth Tk47.03bn last year, up from only Tk20bn in 2009.
Shrimp exports account for 80% of the total fishery exports to the EU. This sector has generated direct and indirect employment of some 12 million people and contributes over 4% of the GDP, industry insiders say.
Exportable shrimps are cultivated mainly in Khulna, Satkhira, Bagerhat, Jessore, Narail, Cox’s Bazar, Pirojpur, and Gopalganj areas. Bangladesh mainly produces saline water bagda or black tiger shrimps and the rest are freshwater galda or green tiger prawns.
The EU launched strict monitoring measures in 2009 after allegations were raised over the presence of harmful metallic elements and chemicals such as nitrofurans, a banned antibiotic, in the shrimps and fisheries items.
“The EU delegates who were observing the frozen food items from Bangladesh are now satisfied over the measures we have taken after getting their complaints. Considering our precaution and measures, they submitted reports on our favour, and subsequently, the EU authorities gave us the clean chit,” the minister said.
However the Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association (BFFEA) President Md Amin Ullah did not comment on the issue when approached by the Dhaka Tribune.
Minister Bishwas said: “Bangladesh was about to lose its market in the world including the EU because of some dishonest traders. But the government tackled the situation carefully and solved the problems in the sector. They [the EU] were satisfied and withdraw the barriers.”
The government has established modern quality control laboratories in Savar, Khulna, and Chittagong including LCMS (Liquid Chromatography coupled to Mass Spectrometry) and GCMS (Gas Chromatography coupled to Mass Spectrometry) equipment. Installation of the laboratories in Chittagong and Khulna has been finished while construction of the Savar one is nearly complete, he added.
According to the Department of Fisheries, the LCMS facility is applied mainly for the analysis of thermally unstable molecules in complex samples like biological fluids while the GCMS is applied for the analysis of volatile compounds in complex samples such as gasoline and petroleum products.
The minister also added that an initiative titled “BEST Project” has been taken to improve the quality of shrimps in shrimp farming areas. “All the shrimp enclosures have been brought under registration and monitoring system to eliminate the risk of metallic and chemical contamination,” Bishwas said.