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Commercial wings in overseas missions

January 12, 2019 00:00:00

The decision of the government to set up more commercial wings in Bangladesh embassies abroad to facilitate trade and investment may apparently strike the right chord because of the role such wings are likely to assume in discharge of their functions. Given that commercial wings are meant to be catalytic in boosting trade and investment, setting up these wings calls for specialised services of professionals who beside being well-versed with international trade should be fully aware of the needs of the home country as well as the trading practices and bottlenecks, if any, in the host country. The big question in the context of Bangladesh is how far the commercial wings abroad -- reportedly around 20 -- are equipped to handle the kind of job demanded of them. To put it differently, has the government been earnest in developing the commercial wings as facilitating points in a proactive manner?

For long it has been observed that manning the commercial wings is hardly, if ever, viewed differently from normal posting of officials in other government bodies. This age-old practice of placing officials, irrespective of their background or experience, is believed to be the main reason why the commercial wings fail to deliver or cannot perform desirably. Ironically, every year the commerce ministry sets export targets for each of the overseas commercial wings as though achievement of the target or failure to do so determines the performance of the respective commercial wing/s. So, commercial wings in major EU countries where Bangladesh's export experiences almost a routine growth year-on may well be recognised as good performers!

That the case is not so is pretty well known to all relevant quarters including the government. Still, the practice is on, at the expense of maintaining these wings at high cost. What emerges as a result is the recruitment of officials either on merit or on considerations otherwise, but hardly ever on their expertise or even adequate functional knowledge on trade and commerce, such as-documentation, customs procedures, compliance factors, tariff and non-tariff issues and so on. Understandably, once posted out, many of them find it difficult to get on with even the routine works because of wanting hands-on experience.

Against this backdrop, the decision to open new commercial wings in Bangladesh embassies is not likely to inspire hope, unless of course the authorities part with the usual practice of posting officials, and look for really capable candidates. It has been learnt that the commerce ministry has recently given clearance to set up five commercial wings in China, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and Indonesia. The commercial wing in China will be in Kunming in addition to the one already in Beijing. No doubt, the decision has been prompted by good prospect of export from Bangladesh to these countries. So, to be able to exploit the opportunity, there is no choice but to equip the commercial wings with competent manpower. Alongside exports, there may be the need for sourcing imports too. And in respect of investment, the crying need of the hour for the commercial wings is to play a critical role provided they are endowed with the right human resource.

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