Bangladesh bets on Saudi market to increase presence in Middle East


Bangladesh is seeking to tap into the Saudi market to increase its presence in the Middle East, the country’s export promotion body told Arab News ahead of a trade and investment fair in Riyadh.

Most of Bangladesh’s exports to Saudi Arabia have until now targeted its 2.5 million expatriate community living and working in the Kingdom. The Export Promotion Bureau under the Bangladeshi Ministry of Commerce is hopeful that with the upcoming Trade and Investment Fair 2022, which it will hold in Riyadh on Oct. 6-8, it will be able to help increase Dhaka’s currently insignificant stake in the Saudi market.

Last year, Bangladeshi exports to Saudi Arabia were about $300 million. The EPB seeks to increase them by the end of this year to $350 million and expand trade activity to other countries in the region.

“From Saudi Arabia, we can also do our marketing in Arab and Middle Eastern countries,” the bureau’s Vice Chairman A. H. M. Ahsan told Arab News.

“We have also targeted Saudi Arabia as one of our export destinations, mainly because of the presence of a large number of expatriates and the strategic location of Saudi Arabia.” The EPB is planning to diversify the country’s trade portfolio, which currently is dominated by the garment sector — the No. 1 industry in Bangladesh, employing over 4 million people, contributing over 11 percent of the country’s GDP and accounting for 80 percent of its exports. “Instead of exporting readymade garments or food items, we are pushing for light engineering products,” Ahsan said. The garment sector is, however, also looking to increase its presence in the Kingdom. “Saudi Arabia and Middle Eastern countries collect our clothing products from different parts of the world,” Md. Nurul Islam, director of Impress-Newtex Composite Textiles, which produces apparel for international brands such as H&M and Zara, told Arab News. “We produce clothes for these major brands. But while visiting shops in the Kingdom, we see these clothes were made in Bangladesh. So, why should we remain idle? It’s better to create our own market in Saudi Arabia.” His company will be one of the exhibitors participating in October’s fair, which he expects to considerably expand the Bangladeshi garment industry’s prospects in the region. “There will be many other producers showcasing their goods. Through these stalls, we will try to meet the buyers over there,” he said. “In comparison with other competitors in the Saudi Arabian market, we are significantly lagging behind. But I believe in the next three to four years, we can increase our export volume up to $3-4 billion.” The fair will also focus on attracting Saudi investment to Bangladesh, following a boost in ties after Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan’s visit to Dhaka in March this year, when the two countries held their first ever political consultation talks. During the visit, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen pledged Dhaka’s support for Saudi entities interested in investing in the country, which was preparing more than 100 special economic zones for potential investors.