Bangladesh frozen fish exporters found in a fix more than Saudi embargo

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The country's frozen fish exporters were in dire straits, as the Saudi Arabia had not been allowing shipment of fishes from Bangladesh without prior enlistment by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA), sector insiders said.

Traders said they cannot export fishes to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) since November 2020, while the kingdom had tightened it has the enlistment policy though it was first flexible for the exporters.

Saudi Arabia, a essential market for Bangladeshi fish exporters, issued a circular at the start of 2017 regarding bringing meat, fish and poultry exporters under the SFDA registration.

However, the KSA banned import of cultured fishes from the country in 2018, raising query over quality issues.

A team of the SFDA was scheduled to visit Bangladesh in 2018 to inspect fish farming administration system, processing crops, and quality control etc. However the team ultimately didn't come to Bangladesh.

Concurrently, the SFDA teams visited other frozen fish exporting countries including India, Pakistan and Myanmar, and lifted the embargo on cultured seafood export from those countries, the sector insiders also said.

The primary consumers of frozen fishes in the KSA are Bangladeshi expatriates. More than 2.0 million Bangladeshis will work in the Middle-Eastern country.

The frozen fish processors said they had already faced a serious blow due to the coronavirus fallout. The obstacle relating to shipment to Saudi Arabia brought another setback to the sector.

Bangladesh exported fishes well worth US$ 10 million on fiscal year (FY) 2013-14, whereas the total amount dropped to $5.11 million in FY 2019-20 mainly as a result of the embargo.

Ashraf Hossain Masud, senior vice president of the Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association (BFFEA), said the neighborhood exporters would not manage to export fishes to the KSA without the SFDA registration.

They communicated with the Department of Fisheries (DoF) many times since they had faced the obstacle in shipment to the KSA. They also sent lists of suppliers to the DoF to have necessary steps to get them registered with the SFDA.

But so far, that they had certainly not seen any notable improvement to solve the problem, he noted.

"We've sought immediate actions from the federal government. Otherwise, our marketplace share might be lost to others countries like Myanmar, Thailand and India. These countries already have the SFDA enlistment," he added.

Meanwhile, the DoF sent a list of 34 exporters to the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock (MoFL) last month to take necessary activities.

The DoF, in its letter to the ministry, said Saudi Arabia was a significant frozen fish importing country from Bangladesh. As the neighborhood exporters were not registered by the SFDA, they were facing barrier to send their what to the Arab country.

Besides, the Ministry of Commerce, in a letter found in January, also requested the MoFL to solve the complications about the SFDA enlistment as soon as possible.

Dodul Kumar Datta, managing director of Pacific Ocean Food Ltd - a leading exporter to Saudi Arabia, said his export declined by 50 % after the KSA had imposed the embargo.

He also requested the federal government to go over with the Saudi authorities concerned, so that the KSA resumed import of cultured fishes from Bangladesh.

Regional fish traders opined that the problems regarding export to Saudi market weren't solved only as a result of bureaucratic complications.

If the ministry and departments concerned had communicated with the Saudi authorities, the barriers didn't exist, as the exporters preserved quality of their items, they added.

The MoFL officials cannot be received to comment over the problem, despite repeated attempts by the FE correspondent.