Even as people’s elected representatives question the government on strategies and plans to enhance export, a big delegation of Bhutanese officials, producers, entrepreneurs and businessmen have convened in Dhaka, Bangladesh taking part in a trade and investment fair.

The fair presents a remarkable opportunity to promote Bhutanese products in the burgeoning market of Bangladesh. As aimed, it will establish connections between investors, producers, consumers for goods made or grown in Bhutan. Such an initiative, rare it may be, should be lauded. 

For the residents of the plains of Bangladesh, particularly the growing middle and upper classes, Bhutanese products are highly sought after. The brand value associated with Bhutan and its association with the Himalayas have already appealed to those living in the hot plains. Everything originating from the mountains is synonymous with purity, freshness, and cleanliness. We can surmise the delegation was served, with pride, oranges from Tsirang or Dagana.  

However, have we fully tapped into this market? The resounding answer is no. 

Apart from apples and oranges, and recently boulder, exports to Bangladesh remain limited, especially in terms of home grown or homemade products. It is crucial to effectively market Bhutanese products, which requires substantial investments. Fortunately, the Department of Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives has recently begun investing in marketing efforts. We are exploring markets beyond South Asia, and certain products are already available for online purchase in countries such as Singapore, if not yet on physical store shelves.

Beyond aggressive marketing campaigns or trade fairs, the ultimate selling point lies in the quality and standards of our goods. The call is for standardisation and certification to boost export. Standardisation basically means consistency in quality, bare necessities that speak for the products. In some markets, certifications are not a barrier, but a safeguard. If we can be consistent with the quality of our products, it will find its own market. 

Some have. However, there have also been instances where the quality of our products, once reaching a market, has faltered. There have been stories of products falsely claimed as organic or instances where Bhutanese business practices have undermined opportunities, such as entering the ASEAN market.

There are indeed obstacles to overcome along the way to Bangladesh or beyond for Bhutanese product. Barriers such as permits, taxes and harassment can be resolved through concerted efforts. The biggest hurdle is consistently maintaining high standards of quality. We hope that our producers, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, and traders return with this crucial insight.

For Bhutan and Bhutanese, gaining a small share of the Bangladeshi market will bring immense benefits. From boosting exports and offsetting the trade balance to earning in convertible currency, the opportunities are many. Then there are other advantages of proximity, free trade agreements and convenience of the inland waterways. 

 It is encouraging to learn that the government is taking initiatives to organize  trade fairs globally, using our embassies, missions and consulates to promote trade and expand market opportunities. 

 As small producers we cannot compete on price. This is evident by how PRAN Foods, Bangladesh, is flooding our market from orange squashes to potato chips (orange and potato probably imported  from Bhutan). Our competitive edge should lie in the quality and consistency of our standards. Brand Bhutan is our advantage although not many know beyond the happiness tag. Our collective efforts should aim  at making consumers around the world “Believe” in brand Bhutan.