Firm, right step to $50b hope

PM opens garment summit, urges buyers for better prices
With a whopping $25 billion export turnover last fiscal year, Bangladesh’s apparel sector is now ready to take the next giant leap.

Exporters for the first time hosted an apparel summit yesterday with twin objectives — to hit $50 billion garment exports by 2021, and to repair the sector’s image that was dented by industrial disasters.

The three-day Dhaka Apparel Summit has brought together retailers, trade body leaders, policymakers and scholars, especially from the US and the EU, the two main export destinations of Bangladeshi garments.

Bangladesh is the second largest apparel exporter after China and shipped garments worth $24.5 billion last fiscal year. The country now enjoys a 5 percent share of the global apparel business worth $450 billion a year.

Bangladesh will have to grab another 3 percent share of the global market to reach the $50 billion export target by 2021 when the apparel business worldwide is expected to stand at $650 billion.

To this end, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has invited the international community to the event at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre to show their strength and present a positive image of the country.

While opening the summit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called upon international retailers to increase prices of the garment items they buy from Bangladesh.

“The retailers and their representatives are here. It is my request to you to increase the prices of the garment items. If you increase the prices, the living standards of the workers will also be improved,” she said.

Hasina also asked garment makers to increase exports to markets such as the EU, Norway, Switzerland and Japan as those countries have already relaxed the Rules of Origin for Bangladeshi apparel items.

The prime minister talked about some of her government’s steps to help reach the $50-billion export target by 2021 when the country will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its independence.

Besides increasing electricity production, the government is working to build more economic zones and a “garment village” in Munshiganj, she said.

“We are happy to know that Accord, Alliance and National Action Plan inspected 2,193 factories. Most of the factories are in production without any fault,” according to a written speech.

The prime minister also inaugurated a fire safety equipment fair on the sidelines of the summit. Companies from home and abroad are showcasing products such as fire extinguishers, alarms, fire doors, sprinklers, hosepipes, hydrants, safety foams and fire pumps at 92 stalls.

A research organisation — the Centre of Excellence for Bangladesh Apparel Industry — also came into being yesterday. The institute to be run by the BGMEA and International Labour Organisation will conduct research on the apparel sector and advise both the government and the manufacturers on how to drive the sector in the right direction.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina talking to the guests at the Dhaka Apparel Summit 2014 being held in the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the capital yesterday.

At the opening session of the summit, Arnold Zack, a professor at Harvard Law School, suggested Bangladeshi garment makers go for greater partnership with retailers, trade unions and rights groups to achieve the $50-billion target.

“Bangladesh is a strong secular society. You can be a model. But think about partnership. Everybody works in partnership,” Zack said.

State Secretary to the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany, Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, said achieving the target is possible as Bangladesh is a strong player in the global garment business.

“We want to continue our cooperation. Germany is the second most important country for Bangladesh. Bangladesh exports more than $4 billion worth of garment products to Germany in a year,” Fuchtel said.

Five Bangladeshi garment companies have already joined the newly-introduced “textile partnership” of Germany, he said. “Bangladesh needs to join the partnership in a bigger way,” he added.

“Bangladesh has been making incredible products. The garment business has given economic independence to women,” said Ellen Tauscher, chairperson of the Alliance for Bangladesh Workers Safety, a platform of 26 North America-based clothing retailers and brands for factory inspection.

Alliance has already trained 1.1 million workers, trade union leaders, mid-level management and security personnel of the factories on fire and workplace safety, she said.

“But Alliance cannot do it alone. We need help from Bangladesh government and trade unions. We need to continue work everyday for success,” Tauscher said.

Jean Lambert, chairperson of the European Parliament delegation for relations with countries of South Asia, said European citizens were demanding greater accountability after the Rana Plaza building collapse.

“We from the EU parliament welcome the government’s decision to increase safety standards,” she said, adding that more than 60 percent of Bangladesh’s garment products are exported to the EU.

BGMEA president Atiqul Islam said Bangladesh’s garment sector employs around 4.4 million people. “Whereas, out of 195 countries in the world, the size of population in 117 countries is below 4.5 million.”

“So, there might be some problems, and we don’t ignore them, rather we are addressing those positively. But we get disappointed when actions are taken against us that undermine our progress.”

Finance Minister AMA Muhith, Industries Minister Amir Hossain Amu, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed and Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali also spoke.


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