Bangladesh: Single certification body needed to facilitate food export

THE recommendation of the Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission for the formation of a single entity on health certification of agricultural and processed food to boost and expedite relevant export appears timely. A committee that the commerce ministry set up to assess economic benefits of having such an entity had recommended a single certification body where from exporters will get all types of health certification keeping to requirements of importing countries.

The commission report also says that Bangladesh, which has a huge potential in agricultural and processed food export, is unable to tap the potential for not having a single certification authority that could reduce lengthy and cumbersome processes that exporters now undergo to get certificates. Exporters send agricultural products overseas largely using the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution certification that is usually issued in production stages, but exporters often need other certificates as the demand of importing countries varies.

The Islamic Foundation, for example, issues halal certificate which is required for meat export to the Middle East while Department of Fisheries needs to issue a health certificate for fish export.

A single certification entity bringing representatives of all relevant authorities, including the Department of Agricultural Extension, the Department of Fisheries, the Department of Livestock Services, the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution, the Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and other agencies together to provide certification services through a one-stop service scheme can ease the export process.

The export of agro-based and processed food is also hampered as Bangladesh does not have accredited testing laboratories of international standards for food quality certification. The government should attend to the issue too and set up such a testing laboratory and have the existing laboratories accredited.

Being an agro-intensive country, Bangladesh, which earned $912 million in 2019 exporting about 130 agro-based and non-farm food items to about 180 countries, should look forward to exporting more agro-based and processed foods. Although the processed food export sector was declared a thrust sector — having already been able to successfully contribute to industrialisation and poverty alleviation by increasing the gross domestic product, creating employments and increasing export earning — in the Industrial Policy 2016, the sector is yet to receive the right kind of facilitation.

The government must, therefore, facilitate the agricultural and processed food export sector, taking the required initiative. The establishment of a single certification entity appears to be a good step to begin with. The government must also set up a testing laboratory of international standards and must have the existing laboratories accredited to ease export and to earn the confidence of the importing countries. The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution must also live up to its responsibilities and increase the number of products under its mandatory certification system.