Sweet and savory, Bangladeshi biscuits find top market in Middle East

A man chooses between different brands of Bangladeshi biscuits at a grocery shop in Dhaka, June 15, 2023. (AN photo)
A man chooses between different brands of Bangladeshi biscuits at a grocery shop in Dhaka, June 15, 2023. (AN photo)
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Updated 15 June 2023
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Sweet and savory, Bangladeshi biscuits find top market in Middle East

Sweet and savory, Bangladeshi biscuits find top market in Middle East
  • Almost one-third of Bangladeshi biscuit exports go to Saudi Arabia
  • Producers observe growth in demand since COVID-19 pandemic

DHAKA: A favorite Bangladeshi companion to morning, midday and evening tea, biscuits are increasingly also a top export product, especially to the Middle East.

Bangladeshis like their biscuits, cookies or crackers flour-based, flat, unleavened and crunchy. Traditionally sweet or plain, they have lately also been made savory, winning appeal abroad.

For Shafiqur Rahman Bhuiyan, the president of the Biscuit Association of Bangladesh, the reason for growing demand of the snack is because biscuits are no longer seen as merely nibbles.

“Instead of rice, someone may have biscuits as they contain all the food nutrients like carbohydrates, fat, protein, etc.,” he said.

“People used to consider biscuits as snacks but recently this has changed. Since the days of COVID-19, we have been able to establish the idea that biscuits are not snacks but a complete food.”

This was, according to Bhuiyan, the main factor behind the 10-15 percent growth of the local biscuit market, and also of increasing demand worldwide.

Bangladeshi Export Promotion Bureau data shows that between July 2022 and April 2023, or the first 10 months of the 2022-23 fiscal year, Bangladesh exported biscuits worth more than $30 million. Almost one-third of the exports, $9 million, went to Saudi Arabia, followed by the UAE and Oman.

In Asia, the main importers were Malaysia and the Philippines — buying about $2 million worth of biscuits each.

“For having cookies with friends and family, the Energy biscuit has huge popularity as each of the packs contains more than a dozen slices. There are some other names also like Nutty, Potata,” Bhuiyan told Arab News.

Potata biscuits are thin like crisps and made from potatoes, as the name suggests. Tangy and salty, during the pandemic they won over India — the world’s largest exporter of biscuits — where they made the rounds on social media as irresistible. Energy and Nutty are sweet. The first has a peanut flavor, while the latter is milky. Both are produced by Olympic, the largest Bangladeshi biscuit producer and exporter.

Olympic also makes Hilux — vegetable-flavored crackers which are the most popular Bangladeshi biscuit brand in Saudi Arabia.

“This brand has won the hearts of many Arab consumers,” Nazim Uddin, Olympic’s head of export, told Arab News.

But the main consumers of Bangladeshi biscuits are not Saudis but Bangladeshis themselves. About 2.5 million of them live and work in the Kingdom and are a natural captive market for producers from their homeland.

“Our export market in the Kingdom and other Gulf countries mostly depends on the Bangladeshi migrants living in these countries,” Uddin said.

“After Saudi Arabia, at the moment, the UAE is our second largest market in this region. It’s much related to the number of Bangladeshis in a particular country. For instance, before the FIFA World Cup, we exported a significant volume to Qatar as there were many migrant workers. But now this export dropped as many of the migrants returned home.”


Pro-China party wins Maldives election in landslide

Pro-China party wins Maldives election in landslide
Updated 7 sec ago
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Pro-China party wins Maldives election in landslide

Pro-China party wins Maldives election in landslide

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s party earned a landslide victory in parliamentary elections, local media reported on Monday, a result set to move the Indian Ocean archipelago closer to China and away from traditional partner India.

Muizzu’s People’s National Congress, also known as PNC, won 71 of the 93 seats available on Sunday, preliminary results from the Maldives Elections Commission and media projections showed.

The party together with its coalition partners holds 75 seats in total while the main opposition Maldives Democratic Party dwindled to only 12 seats from 65 previously.

Jubilant voters celebrated with party poppers and cut cakes in their constituencies.

Both Beijing and New Delhi have wooed the Maldives as they vie for influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Elected last year, Muizzu has pledged to end the country’s “India First” policy, straining ties with New Delhi.

His government has asked dozens of Indian military personnel to leave the Maldives, a move critics say could hasten its shift toward China.

Muizzu has also said his government is keen to explore partnerships under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, including the expansion of the country’s central airport and commercial port.

Chinese firms have invested $1.37 billion in the Maldives in the last decade making it the largest bilateral creditor, World Bank data showed.

“Now Muizzu has more leverage and space to pursue a more balanced foreign policy. He would seek to forge a more diversified policy but I don’t think he will necessarily severe India relations,” said Azim Zahir, a lecturer at the University of Western Australia.

Muizzu’s position as president was not affected by Sunday’s vote, in which 368 candidates stood for five-year terms.


India’s Congress seeks action against Modi for ‘objectionable’ comments about Muslims

India’s Congress seeks action against Modi for ‘objectionable’ comments about Muslims
Updated 22 April 2024
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India’s Congress seeks action against Modi for ‘objectionable’ comments about Muslims

India’s Congress seeks action against Modi for ‘objectionable’ comments about Muslims
  • Modi, who is seeking a third consecutive term, referred to Muslims as ‘infiltrators’ during Sunday’s speech
  • Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said Modi’s ‘deeply objectionable’ statement violated sections of law

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition Congress party petitioned the Election Commission on Monday to act against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making what it said were “deeply objectionable” comments about Muslims that violated election laws.

Modi, who is seeking a rare third consecutive term, referred to Muslims as “infiltrators” during a campaign speech on Sunday, drawing widespread criticism from opposition groups.

In his speech, Modi said the Congress election manifesto promised to confiscate and redistribute the wealth of Indians, which it denies.

Modi said if the party adhered to remarks in 2006 of then Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that minority Muslims should have the “first claim on resources” to share in the fruits of development, then wealth would be distributed to “infiltrators” and those who have “more children.”

Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliates often refer to Muslim militants illegally crossing the border from Pakistan as infiltrators.

They have also criticized Muslims for their higher birth rates and invoked fears that India’s Muslim population would overtake that of its majority Hindus.

India’s estimated 200 million Muslims make up the world’s third-largest Muslim population. India has a population of 1.42 billion people.

Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said Modi’s “deeply objectionable” statement violated sections of the law that prohibit candidates from asking people to vote or refrain from voting for anyone on the grounds of “religion,” “community” or “religious symbols.”

“We have asked the Election Commission to state that this is the position in law,” Singhvi told reporters, urging it to act against Modi in the same way it would against anyone else accused of similar offenses.

The Election Commission did not respond to a request for comment.

Modi’s government has repeatedly been accused of discrimination against Muslims, with civil society, opposition groups, and some foreign governments raising concerns over decisions they say are aimed at fanning discrimination and keeping the BJP in power.

The government has denied all accusations, and Modi has said he works for the betterment of all.

Under election laws, the Election Commission can ask a party or its leader to respond to a complaint, issue adviseries cautioning them or prohibit them from campaigning for a specified period, or launch a criminal case against repeat offenders. India’s seven-week election began on April 19 and will end on June 1, with results due on June 4.


Macron discusses MidEast crisis with Israel’s Netanyahu, Egypt’s El-Sisi

Macron discusses MidEast crisis with Israel’s Netanyahu, Egypt’s El-Sisi
Updated 22 April 2024
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Macron discusses MidEast crisis with Israel’s Netanyahu, Egypt’s El-Sisi

Macron discusses MidEast crisis with Israel’s Netanyahu, Egypt’s El-Sisi
  • Macron had also reiterated to Netanyahu that France wanted an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Gaza

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron held phone calls on Monday with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to discuss ways of avoiding an escalation in the Middle East crisis, said France and Egypt.
The French presidency said Macron, in his call with Netanyahu, had reaffirmed Paris’s desire to avoid an escalation in the Middle East and to stand up to what it said were Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region.
The French presidency added that Macron had also reiterated to Netanyahu that France wanted an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Gaza and said Paris was working to ease tensions arising from clashes on the border between Israel and Lebanon.
In a separate statement, Egyptian presidential spokesperson Ahmed Fahmy said Macron had also discussed the Middle East crisis with the Egyptian leader and that both Macron and El-Sisi had agreed on the need to avoid further regional escalation.


India’s Kohli fined for angry outburst at IPL umpires

India’s Kohli fined for angry outburst at IPL umpires
Updated 22 April 2024
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India’s Kohli fined for angry outburst at IPL umpires

India’s Kohli fined for angry outburst at IPL umpires
  • Kohli fell early in Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s chase after he was caught by Kolkata Knight Riders Harshit Rana
  • Visuals on social media showed Kohli having discussion with umpire after the match as pundits weighed in on dismissal

NEW DELHI: India star Virat Kohli has been fined half his match fee for an angry outburst in response to his dismissal from an Indian Premier League match, the league said Monday.

Kohli fell early in Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s chase on Sunday after he was caught and bowled by Kolkata Knight Riders pace bowler Harshit Rana and his team went on to lose by one run at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.

But the former India captain looked confident the high full-toss was above his waist as the umpires checked for a no-ball.

TV umpire Michael Gough declared it out after technology suggested the trajectory of the ball dipped below the waist of the batsman, who returned furious after exchanging words with the on-field officials.

“Kohli committed a Level 1 offense under Article 2.8 of the IPL’s Code of Conduct,” an IPL statement said.

“He admitted to the offense and accepted the Match Referee’s sanction.”

Visuals on social media showed Kohli having a long discussion with an umpire after the match ended and pundits weighed in on the dismissal.

Former India batsman Navjot Singh Sidhu slammed the call and asked for the “rules to be changed“

Ex-India quick Irfan Pathan said on X, formerly Twitter, “if Virat Kohli was standing at the popping crease the ball would have been lower than his measured waist height, making it a legal delivery.”

Kohli has been the top run-getter in the T20 tournament so far with 379 runs in eight matches but his team Bengaluru remains bottom of the 10-team table with just one win.


Philippines, US forces to take military drills into disputed South China Sea

Philippines, US forces to take military drills into disputed South China Sea
Updated 22 April 2024
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Philippines, US forces to take military drills into disputed South China Sea

Philippines, US forces to take military drills into disputed South China Sea
  • More than 16,000 Filipino, American soldiers are involved in the annual exercises this year
  • Beijing, Philippines have overlapping claims in the resource-rich South China Sea

MANILA: Filipino and US forces began their annual joint military drills on Monday, segments of which will, for the first time, take place outside of the Philippines’ territorial waters following a string of maritime clashes between Manila and Beijing in the disputed South China Sea.

The exercises, known as Balikatan — Tagalog for shoulder-to-shoulder — will run up until May 10 and involve over 16,000 military personnel, along with more than 250 Australian and French forces.

For the first time since the annual drills started over 30 years ago, the Philippines and the US will conduct joint naval drills beyond the 12 nautical miles (22.2 km) of the Philippines’ territorial waters, in parts of the open sea claimed by China.

“This exercise represents the essence of unity, collective responsibility, and enduring partnership between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America and other partners,” Philippines’ military chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. said during the opening ceremony.

“It is not a partnership of convenience but rather a clear reflection of our shared history, unwavering commitment to democracy and respect for international law in our pursuit of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Throughout the three-week exercise, soldiers from the two militaries will operate out of a joint command center to perform four major activities with a focus on countering maritime, air, land, and cyber attacks.

“It’s the first time that we are going beyond our (12) nautical miles,” Maj. Gen. Marvin Licudine, Philippines exercise director, told reporters.

The Balikatan training operations are not directed at a particular country, he said, but are more focused on the “development of interoperability,” with an increased complexity of the drills and scenarios to let soldiers learn more from one another.

The joint exercises take place as Philippine and Chinese coast guard and other vessels have featured in a series of increasingly tense territorial face-offs since last year, including Chinese use of water cannons against a Philippine vessel in the South China Sea last month, causing damage and injuries.

After the incident, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said his government would take countermeasures against “illegal, coercive, aggressive, and dangerous attacks” by the Chinese Coast Guard.

“We seek no conflict with any nation, more so nations that purport and claim to be our friends but we will not be cowed into silence, submission, or subservience,” Marcos had said in a statement.

The Philippines and China, along with several other countries, have overlapping claims in the resource-rich waterway, where a bulk of the world’s commerce and oil transits.

Beijing has been increasing its military activity over the past few years, with the Chinese Coast Guard regularly encroaching on the Philippine part of the waters, the West Philippine Sea, despite a 2016 ruling by an international tribunal in The Hague dismissing China’s expansive claims.

Don McLain Gill, an international studies lecturer at De La Salle University in Manila, said the scope of this year’s Balikatan is a “clear reflection of Manila’s commitment to exercise its sovereignty and sovereign rights within its exclusive economic zone.

“This year ’s exercise will also involve complex maritime security issues such as simulations of recovering islands from hostile forces, which add a practical dimension to collective self defense efforts by the like-minded partners,” he told Arab News.

“Clearly, securing the WPS based on international law will not bode well for China’s expansionist interests. While the Balikatan is aimed at improving joint preparedness amidst emerging challenges in the region, the challenge posed by China's expansionism is clearly one of the critical factors that provoke regional security.”