Bangladesh will soon start lobbying with the UK for the continuation of the zero-duty benefit following its exit from the European Union, said Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed. At present, the UK is the third largest export destination for Bangladesh. On Thursday, more than 17.4 million Britons voted to sever ties with the EU, a decision known as Brexit. “Retaining the trade privilege with the UK is our main concern. It would be a major task for the commerce ministry and for the government,” Ahmed told The Daily Star in an interview yesterday. Bangladesh has been enjoying zero-duty benefit under the EU’s Everything But Arms scheme since 1971 including to the UK. Following Brexit, any suspension in trade privilege will strongly affect Bangladesh’s garment trade, domestic vegetable production and employment, he said. “After Brexit, the UK is now a single country and here we will need to continue diplomatic, commercial and economic lobbying simultaneously for establishing strong relationship and for the continuation of the trade privilege. ”Over the years, Britain has become a major importer of Bangladeshi fruits and vegetables along with fish and meat owing to a large population of non-resident Bangladeshis. Bangladesh exports fruits and vegetables worth more than Tk 400 crore to the UK every year, and nearly 40 percent of the country’s total export of fruits, vegetables and allied products a year is destined for the British isles. The local companies also export a good quantity of agro-processed packaged food to the UK. “So, we will sit with trade analysts, diplomats, bureaucrats and international trade experts to take realistic steps to negotiate with the UK under the new system. But, we will have to wait for sometime to observe the UK’s decision on duty and trade issues.”Last fiscal year, Bangladesh exported goods worth $3.23 billion to the UK, registering a 21.28 percent year-on-year growth, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.Garment items include nearly 90 percent of the total exports from Bangladesh to the UK in a year. And in the next five years, garment exporters are targeting to export $5 billion worth of apparel items to the UK.Many British retailers like Asda, Tesco, Primark, Marks & Spencer and Next purchase in bulk from Bangladesh every year.“We have a historic relationship with the UK, as a large number of non-resident Bangladeshis are living there for years. So, in the long-term our relationship with the UK will continue to grow. The minister observed that in the short-term, Bangladeshi exporters will receive less value due to the devaluation of pound sterling following Brexit.“But, once the UK starts trade functions with the partners under the new system, things will get back to normal. This will not continue for long.”Last fiscal year, Bangladesh’s total export earnings stood at $31.20 billion. Of the amount, $17 billion came from the EU.