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Bangladesh sets export target of 50 billion US dollars by 2021

By FashionUnited


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Bangladeshi apparel makers have set a target of raising the annual export volume to 50 billion US dollars in 2021 when the country celebrates the golden jubilee of its independence in 1971. They set the ambitious target riding on work orders diverted from China as the top global economy nowadays prefers to manufacture high-end apparel items instead of low-end ones.

With massive reform programmes regarding compliance underway, the Bangladeshi garment makers are now more confident to achieve the new target, provided the government comes forward with adequate policy support and removes infrastructural bottlenecks.

“We are very much confident about achieving the export earning target set for 2021. But we need infrastructural and policy support to attain the goal,” said the vice president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Shahidullah Azim when talking to FashionUnited.

Pointing out some drawbacks, he said the existing infrastructure is suitable for the production of goods worth 16 billion US dollars a year but Bangladeshi manufacturers are now producing goods worth 25 billion US dollars with the existing infrastructure.

“So, we need infrastructural support including gas and electricity to further expand the production base,” said Mr Azim, adding that the apparel industry needs to be considered as ‘priority sector’ to graduate Bangladesh to a middle income nation by 2021.

He pointed out that presently, 40 percent of all garment factories are housed in shared buildings where western buyers do not want to place orders due to non-compliance issues. Some 2 billion US dollars would be needed to relocate those factories. "The government has to arrange the fund at a low interest rate to help their relocation," he added.

Asked if there were adequate work orders from buyers, Mr Azim said: “Many buyers are shifting from China as the communist country now produces high-end goods. Bangladesh is highly competitive in manufacturing low-end products. So, there are plenty of orders.” Besides, he said, a market diversification drive is here to help Bangladesh-made apparel items reach new destinations.

Mr Azim said the apparel summit, held in Dhaka from 7th to 9th December, had listed some challenges and opportunities which need to be addressed and explored instead of keeping them on the backburner. “If the challenges are removed, the apparel sector alone can lead Bangladesh to becoming a middle income nation.”

Following the deadly Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013 and a fire at Tazreen Fashions in 2012, Bangladesh’s apparel industry has carried out massive reform programmes regarding workplace safety, worker welfare and labour rights under strong monitoring in line with the action plans forwarded by the United States and the European Union.

Most of the conditions set by the US and the EU are met already while some are underway to make the entire readymade garment industry compliant. The global pressure, especially the suspension of GSP facility by the US and threats from others regarding shifting orders, have compelled Bangladeshi manufacturers to carry out the reforms for the sake of the industry itself.

BGMEA president Atiqul Islam said thousands of people from home and aboard have attended the just concluded Dhaka Apparel Summit. Heads of western retail companies, compliance watchdogs, western civil society representatives, diplomats, local labour leaders, and government high-ups were among them.

“After attending the summit and visiting factories, they have expressed high satisfaction on compliance issues. They had no idea how developed the Bangladeshi garment industry is nowadays,” said Mr Islam. He mentioned that presently, the global demand for apparel items is at 450 billion US dollars, which may reach 650 billion US dollars by 2021. Bangladesh needs to increase its share to 8 percent from the existing 5 percent to achieve the 50 billion US dollar apparel export earnings target.

While inaugurating the apparel summit, Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina also launched the Centre of Excellence for the Bangladesh Apparel Industry (CEBAI), a research centre aimed at raising the skill and productivity of workers.

This is something that is badly needed in view of productivity and competition. Stakeholders at the summit pointed out that Bangladeshi workers currently lacked the skill and productivity due to a lack of proper training. Vietnam for example is exporting almost the same volume of apparel items but with half of the workforce that Bangladesh has, riding on their skill and productivity, so Mr Islam.

After attending the summit, Ellen Tauscher, independent chairperson of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, expressed satisfaction over the progress Bangladesh has made so far in implementing its commitments to ensure safe workplace for workers. “We have seen great progress that has taken place following the collaboration of important stakeholders, like factory owners, building safety experts, the government, ILO and all the brands,” she said. She also stressed the need for Bangladeshi factory owners to make every effort to ensure safe workplaces.

Written and reported by Syful Islam, Dhaka

Photos: Bangladesh garment factory; panelists at the first session; prime minister Sheikh Hasina at the inauguration ceremony

Dhaka Apparel Summit