A senior commerce ministry official told GlobalMeatNews that a new memorandum of understanding had been drafted with the goal of renewing the agreement later this year. Crucially, Bangladesh wants the new version to allow cattle trades at four border haats.
“We’ve internally decided to include cattle in the list of products for trading at border markets,” said Monoj Kumar Roy, an additional secretary (senior official) at the ministry. “But it’s not a tradeable product in India. It’s sensitive.”
He added that his ministry was awaiting reassurance from the ministry of foreign affairs to make sure that the proposal was “diplomatically decent” before it was proposed to New Delhi.
A key goal is to counteract a potential crisis regarding supplies of sacrificial animals slaughtered during the Muslim Eid-al-Adha festival, which is celebrated this month (September). In April this year, Hindu-majority India restricted supplies of cattle to Bangladesh. This has slowed a trade which, said Bangladesh’s National Board of Revenue, saw 2.2 million Indian cattle entering the country in 2014. Bangladesh has seen its beef prices climb more than 40% since that decision.
“In the past, 2,000 cattle used to cross our border points each day,” said Abdullah Al Mamun, a trader from the Jessore district, which borders India. “Now it has stopped.”
Now Narayon Chandra Chanda, state minister for fisheries and livestock, fears that there could be a 10%-15% shortage of sacrificial animals this year because of the Indian restriction.
“Our production is 25 million head of cattle,” he told this site. “We also have a stock of six million bulls ready for festival. Our demand is roughly nine million, including goats and lambs.”
Pushing the government
Robiul Alam, secretary general of the Bangladesh Meat Traders Association, said his group had been pushing the government for cattle trading at border markets. And he predicted that India would never stop cattle trade altogether, as some of its states, including West Bengal, heavily rely on livestock rearing.
He noted that Indian traders still make money from selling cattle-sourced beef (as well as buffalo): “Slaughtering cows is more profitable than trade in live animals,” he said.
Chanda hoped Indian traders would boost exports before the religious feast and said that, already, cattle exports from Myanmar, with which Bangladesh also shares a land border, have started being supplied. He said: “All animals crossing borders will be quarantined by our veterinary physicians to ensure that cattle population is disease-free.”
But Dhaka’s proposal may be cold-shouldered by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government, which curbed the smuggling of livestock into Bangladesh in April.
“We want free trade, but that doesn’t mean smuggled cattle will be legalised,” said Samik Bhattacharya, a BJP state assembly legislator from Indian West Bengal province. “It’s not expected from Bangladesh,” he added, noting import taxes yield its government US$6.40 a cow.
But he warned that any proposal to formalise the cattle trade will not be an “easy ride in a country where cows are worshiped as mother”.
To offset the risk of relying on India, Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, additional director, research, at a Dhaka think-tank, the Centre for Policy Dialogue, has suggested scaling up public and private investment in domestic livestock rearing, reaching out to alternative sources and importing chilled meat.
Dr Moazzem said: “[The] development of a formal channel for cross border trade of cattle will significantly slash illegal trades...”
Senior secretary of the commerce ministry Hedayetullah Al Mamoon said more discussions on the issue were still planned. “The proposal has yet to take shape,” he said. “It’s a bilateral issue.” But he declined to offer further details.