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A major stain on local start-ups

By Tashi Namgyal

The governmentโ€™s proposal to do away with import duty on sanitary products is a direct kick in the teeth of local entrepreneurs who are already faced with stiff competition from third countries.

The offer to do away with 30 percent import duty imposed on sanitary products may sound heartfelt, but the impending consequences are imminent as local entrepreneurs and local products are already foreseeing the considerable impact it will have on their business.

Local sanitary products, which are mostly startup businesses and supported by the Department of Cottage and Small Industries (DCSI) are yet to penetrate into the local market, already facing acute backlashes due to the cheaper imported products on which Bhutanese consumers are more accustomed to.

โ€œPeople already complain about our prices compared with the imported products which are cheaper,โ€ Chechay, from Chechay Sanitary Pads said.

โ€œWe are not yet able to create a niche for our products inside the country but just when we thought things are smoothening out, the announcement by the PM came as a huge surprise to us,โ€ she opined.

The firm distributes sanitary products to 12 Dzongkhags across the country and has recently been able to make a head start into other peripheries by massive awareness campaigns and advertisements. The brand has also seeped into far flung areas where they never thought would be possible.

โ€œOn one side government say they support startups and entrepreneurs but if this is the way, I donโ€™t see any future for us. It is like directly discouraging us to keep aloof,โ€ she added.

Production at her unit has already shrunk from 8000 to 5000 packets in a day due to the pandemic which has left a huge question mark on the survival issues of her unit and 10 employees who are all girls.

The Prime Minister (PM) Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering announced during the menstrual hygiene day this year that the government will be proposing doing away with the import duty on sanitary products in the parliament session.

Shrugging off any doubts whether fellow parliamentarians would construe it otherwise, Lyonchhoen said that the move would be a small but significant gesture to make the products available and more accessible to womanhood in the country, which would go a long way in infusing confidence and comfort in the lives of Bhutanese mothers, wives, sisters and daughters.

โ€œWhile I have no doubt that such campaigns will make huge difference in understanding and acceptance of menstruation, I urge our women and girls to be as confident and maintain utmost self-respect too,โ€ addedLyonchhoen.

Although local entrepreneurs lauded the intent behind the proposal, it will also push their business to the point of pulling down their shutters, which ultimately defeats the very purpose of initiating startups and local brands in the first place.

โ€œThere has to be a middle-path where everybody is on a win-win situation,โ€ Cheychay said.

While some officials from the DCSI said that they provide space and mentorship programmes for business startups, others said that they are not aware of the proposal and that the Department does not barge into the governmentโ€™s policy related issues.

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