With the orange export season at its peak, letting Bhutanese exporters import wooden crates came as a huge relief. The export of oranges or citrus mandarin is at its peak, and without the packaging material, it is impossible to reach hundreds of miles away in  Bangladesh.

Packaging matters in the export and import business. Without our oranges packaged to meet export standards, the value, even if it is considered as one of the best oranges  among Bangladeshi consumers, would decline. There had been incidents where our diplomats had to face embarrassing situations when importers drove trucks to the gates of the Bhutanese Embassy in Dhaka to complain about the imports. 

From what is happening along the border town, busy with the orange export season, the lack of wooden crates is the biggest hurdle.  Letting exporters import crates, made largely from off-cut wood, is seen as a big relief. But it is a big shame for forest rich Bhutan for not even being able to produce wooden crates.  To make it worse, the crates we happily import and seen as a savior, many say, are made from residue wood that we export across the border. 

Landlocked and forest-rich Bhutan does not produce much and imports almost everything from salt to luxury cars and wood to make furniture. It is a shame that we have to rely on simple things like wooden crates to pack our products. It is an insult when the only few export items are hindered because we cannot produce crates from waste wood!

Exporters are feeling it is more convenient to import wooden crates than relying on our local manufacturers. The volume is huge with one exporter importing 10,000 crates. It is a lot of money if our local wood-based industries or the sawmills can cater to the need. It is also a chance for the local industries, always complaining of lack of opportunities, to cash in on the seasonal, yet lucrative annual business. 

The government had attempted to help the local industry by banning import, perhaps recognising our potential and the needs of the wood-based industries.  It has not helped, and our decision makers are under pressure for hindering export of oranges. 

Those relying on the local wood-based industries are suspecting if they are serious about taking advantage of our rich forest products. Many feel that they depend on expatriate workers and imported timber to make a huge killing without helping anyone. The profit from importing rubber wood from Malaysia may be a profitable business, but it benefits only a handful of importers in the pretext of manufacturing good quality local furniture.

 Last year, orange exporters imported Nu 25.5 million worth of wooden crates to export oranges when sawmillers or local industries operators couldn’t meet the demand. Not meeting the demand of wooden crates is a bigger problem than not being able to export oranges. Importing is not the solution or a relief. Something is wrong with our policy or priorities.