The country’s frozen fish exporters were in dire straits, as the Saudi Arabia was not allowing shipment of fishes from Bangladesh without prior enlistment by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA), sector insiders said.
Traders said they could not export fishes to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) since November 2020, as the kingdom had tightened its enlistment policy although it was flexible for the exporters.
Saudi Arabia, a vital market for Bangladeshi fish exporters, issued a circular at the beginning of 2017 regarding bringing meat, poultry and fish exporters under the SFDA registration.
On the other hand, the KSA banned import of cultured fishes from the country in 2018, raising question over quality issues.
A team of the SFDA was scheduled to visit Bangladesh in 2018 to inspect fish farming management system, processing plants, and quality control etc. But the team ultimately did not come to Bangladesh.
At the same time, the SFDA teams visited other frozen fish exporting countries including India, Pakistan and Myanmar, and lifted the embargo on cultured fish export from those countries, the sector insiders also said.
The main consumers of frozen fishes in the KSA are Bangladeshi expatriates. More than 2.0 million Bangladeshis are working in the Middle-Eastern country.
The frozen fish processors said they had already faced a severe blow because of the coronavirus fallout. The obstacle regarding shipment to Saudi Arabia brought another setback to the sector.
Bangladesh exported fishes worth US$ 10 million in fiscal year (FY) 2013-14, whereas the amount dropped to $5.11 million in FY 2019-20 mainly because of the embargo.
Ashraf Hossain Masud, senior vice president of the Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association (BFFEA), said the local exporters would not be able to export fishes to the KSA without the SFDA registration.
They communicated with the Department of Fisheries (DoF) several times since they had faced the obstacle in shipment to the KSA. They also sent lists of suppliers to the DoF to take necessary steps to get them registered with the SFDA.
But so far, they had not seen any notable progress to solve the problem, he noted.
“We’ve sought immediate steps from the government. Otherwise, our market share might be lost to others countries like Myanmar, Thailand and India. These countries have already got 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 actions.
The DoF, in its letter to the ministry, said Saudi Arabia was a major frozen fish importing country from Bangladesh. As the local exporters were not registered by the SFDA, they were facing barrier to send their items to the Arab country.
Besides, the Ministry of Commerce, in a letter in January, also requested the MoFL to solve the complications regarding the SFDA enlistment as early as possible.
Dodul Kumar Datta, managing director of Pacific Sea Food Ltd – a leading exporter to Saudi Arabia, said his export declined by 50 per cent after the KSA had imposed the embargo.
He also requested the government to discuss with the Saudi authorities concerned, so that the KSA resumed import of cultured fishes from Bangladesh.
Local fish traders opined that the problems regarding export to Saudi market were not solved only because of bureaucratic complications.
If the ministry and departments concerned had communicated with the Saudi authorities, the barriers did not exist, as the exporters maintained quality of their items, they added.
The MoFL officials could not be received to comment over the issue, despite repeated attempts by the FE correspondent.