The Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) still lacks proper planning and well-organised data on different issues for reaping maximum benefit from participations in the international trade fairs.
The bureau does not even have any target-oriented plan to participate in these fairs and any monitoring mechanism for properly evaluating success or failure thereby.
In a recent meeting of the JS body on the Ministry of Commerce, EPB presented a brief report on participation in 21 fairs out of 26 'very successfully' they did take part until February 28 of the ongoing FY 2016-17. EPB has been implementing the calendar for the 2016-17 during which there will be 35 international fairs.
They, however, informed the meeting that orders worth US$ 140.14 million were bagged from the 21 fairs the EPB participated in. During the meeting, the parliamentary committee came down heavily on the EPB for their poor performance in organising the fairs, failure in achieving objectives and various other irregularities and overall mismanagement.
The committee members, including commerce minister Tofail Ahmed, suggested that the number of participation in such fairs should be brought down.
While asked about the list of products for which orders were placed and which products were on top demand, EPB vice-chairman Mahfuza Sultana told the FE that they did not analyse the export order in that way.
She also claimed that the participants were not interested to provide us with those categorical information as they considered those information as part of their business secrecy.
However, she mentioned that in the FY 2015-16, the number of exhibitors was 584 when they received spot order worth US$ 88.96 million and potential order estimated at US$ 161.91 million. In FY 2014-15, the number of exhibitors was 634 and spot order amounting US$ 53.92 million was received with the potential order calculated to be US$ 248.43 million.
While her attention was drawn as to what extent the potential orders were finally materialised, the EPB chief said that they did never follow up those information.
Opposing the views expressed by the JS body members, Ms Sultana however stressed continued participation in international trade fairs in a bid to promote home-grown products, diversify the products and thereby facilitate the unknown and small entrepreneurs by way of arranging exposure and meeting with the foreign buyers.
She said EPB has been attaching priority to apparel, leather, jute, processed foods and pharmaceuticals sector. "But the pharmaceutical and big companies are reluctant to participate through the EPB."
Experts however expressed their frustration over EPB's poor data and analysis on various export-related issues.
They also expressed dismay over the fact that EPB, as per their knowledge, doesn't have any mechanism to gauge the success and failure upon participation in any fair.
Nazneen Ahmed, Senior Research Fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), was of the view that participation in international trade fair is helpful for the new products, new markets and new entrepreneurs.
"I think such kind of fairs should continue to be participated in rather by addressing the issues like mismanagement and other loopholes. Many participants have said to me that participation in especially the Dubai and Middle East fairs has helped them export jute products," she noted, adding, these fairs also help diversification of products and entrance into the non-traditional markets.
She, however, said that she was not aware about how much investment was made for arranging these fairs and the achievement afterwards.
It was found that EPB in FY 2016-17 is supposed to participate in 35 fairs. It has already participated in 10 garments expositions, two ICT fairs, four leather expo, two home textile expo, two handicrafts expo, one furniture expo, two agro processing expo, one sea food expo and one single country expo.
By participating in 21 of the fairs, it has managed US$ 140 million export order which is only 0.4 per cent of the country's total export volume of US$ 35 billion.
Centre for Policy Dialogue's (CPD) additional director Khondoker Golam Moazzem Hossain viewed the amount of export order is less than one per cent from these international trade fairs. "But there is scope to turn the amount bigger by setting sector-wise export target as well as calendar-wise target for the trade fairs."
Mr Hossain, however, called for sharing major operational cost including the pavilions by the government and also give incentives to encourage more exhibitors.
He also suggested that the entrepreneurs should provide EPB with all information regarding the products they are displaying, export orders they are getting and others so that EPB can regularly make those information public.