Bangladesh Garments Industry


Bangladesh Faces the Challenge of Globalization


Bangladesh faces the challenge of achieving accelerated economic growth and alleviating the massive poverty that afflicts nearly two-fifths of its 135 million people. To meet this challenge, market-oriented liberalizing policy reforms were initiated in the mid-1980s and were pursued much more vigorously in the 1990s. These reforms were particularly aimed at moving towards an open economic regime and integrating with the global economy.

During the 1990s, notable progress was made in economic performance. Along with maintaining economic stabilization with a significantly reduced and declining dependence on foreign aid, the economy appeared to begin a transition from stabilization to growth. The average annual growth in per capita income had steadily accelerated from about 1.6 per cent per annum in the first half of the 1980s to 3.6 percent by the latter half of the 1990s. This improved performance owed itself both to a slowdown in population growth and a sustained increase in the rate of GDP growth, which averaged 5.2 percent annually during the second half of the 1990s. During this time, progress in the human development indicators was even more impressive. Bangladesh was in fact among the top performing countries in the 1990s, when measured by its improvement in the Human Development Index (HDI) as estimated by the United Nations Development Project (UNDP). In terms of the increase in the value of HDI between 1990 and 2001, Bangladesh is surpassed only by China and Cape Verde.

While most low-income countries depend largely on the export of primary commodities, Bangladesh has made the transition from being primarily a jute-exporting country to a garment-exporting one. This transition has been dictated by the country's resource endowment, characterized by extreme land scarcity and a very high population density, making economic growth dependent on the export of labor-intensive manufactures.
In the wake of the 2001 global recession, Bangladesh's reliance on foreign countries as a market for exports and as a source of remittances has become obvious. If Bangladesh is to become less vulnerable to the economic fortunes of others, it will need to strengthen its domestic economy, creating jobs and markets at home. A strong domestic sector and an improved overall investment environment will provide a more stable source of income - like what the garment industry has provided so far - and will rekindle and sustain Bangladesh's economic growth.

Prospects of the RMG Industry

Despite many difficulties faced by the RMG industry over the past years, it continued to show its robust performance and competitive strength. The resilience and bold trend in this MFA phase-out period partly reflects the imposition of ‘safeguard quotas’ by US and similar restrictions by EU administration on China up to 2008, which has been the largest supplier of textiles and apparel to USA. Other factors like price competitiveness, enhanced GSP facility, market and product diversification, cheap labor, increased backward integration, high level of investment, and government support are among the key factors that helped the country to continue the momentum in export earnings in the apparel sector. Some of these elements are reviewed below.

Market Diversification

Bangladeshi RMG products are mainly destined to the US and EU. Back in 1996-97, Bangladesh was the 7th and 5th largest apparel exporter to the USA and European Union respectively. The industry was successful in exploring the opportunities in markets away from EU and US. In FY07, a successful turnaround was observed in exports to third countries, which having a negative growth in FY06 rose three-fold in FY07, which helped to record 23.1 percent overall export growth in the RMG sector. It is anticipated that the trend of market diversification will continue and this will help to maintain the growth momentum of export earnings. At the same time a recent WTO review points out that Bangladesh has not been able to exploit fully the duty free access to EU that it enjoys. While this is pointed out to be due to stringent rules of origin (ROO) criteria, the relative stagnation in exports to EU requires further analysis.
 
Product Diversification

The growth pattern of RMG exports can be categorized into two distinct phases. During the initial phase it was the woven category, which contributed the most. Second phase is the emergence of knitwear products that powered the recent double digit (year-on-year) growth starting in FY04.  In the globalized economy and ever-changing fashion world, product diversification is the key to continuous business success. Starting with a few items, the entrepreneurs of the RMG sector have also been able to diversify the product base ranging from ordinary shirts, T-shirts, trousers, shorts, pajamas, ladies and children’s wear to sophisticated high value items like quality suits, branded jeans, jackets, sweaters, embroidered wear etc. It is clear that value addition accrues mostly in the designer items, and the sooner local entrepreneurs can catch on to this trend the brighter be the RMG future.

Backward Integration

RMG industry in Bangladesh has already proved itself to be a resilient industry and can be a catalyst for further industrialization in the country. However, this vital industry still depends heavily on imported fabrics. After the liberalization of the quota regime some of the major textile suppliers Thailand, India, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Taiwan increased their own RMG exports.

If Bangladesh wants to enjoy increased market access created by the global open market economy it has no alternative but to produce textile items competitively at home through the establishment of backward linkage with the RMG industry. To some extent the industry has foreseen the need and has embarked on its own capacity building.

Flow of Investment 

It is plausible that domestic entrepreneurs alone may not be able to develop the textile industry by establishing modern mills with adequate capacity to meet the growing RMG demand. It is important to have significant flow of investment both in terms of finance and technology. Figure 3 indicates that the investment outlook in this sector is encouraging, although the uncertainties before the MFA phase-out period caused a sluggish investment scenario. In part the momentum in the post-MFA phase-out period is indicative of the efforts underway towards capacity building through backward integration. This is evident in the pace of lending to the RMG sector and in the rising import share of RMG related machinery. However further progress would be necessary to improve and sustain competitiveness on a global scale.

Policy Regime of Government

Government of Bangladesh has played an active role in designing policy support to the RMG sector that includes back-to-back L/C, bonded warehouse, cash incentives, export credit guarantee scheme, tax holiday and related facilities. At present government operates a cash compensation scheme through which domestic suppliers to export-oriented RMG units receive a cash payment equivalent to 5 percent of the net FOB value of exported garments. At the same time, income tax rate for textile manufacturers were reduced to 15 percent from its earlier level for the period up to June 30, 2008. The reduced tax rates and other facilities are likely to have a positive impact on the RMG sector.

Infrastructural Impediments

The existence of sound infrastructural facilities is a prerequisite for economic development. In Bangladesh, continuing growth of the RMG sector is dependent on the development of a strong backward linkage in order to reduce the lead time.  However, other factors constraining competitiveness of Bangladesh’s RMG exports included the absence of adequate physical infrastructure and utilities.

Labor Productivity

The productive efficiency of labor is more important determinant for gaining comparative advantage than the physical abundance of labor. In Bangladesh, the garment workers are mostly women with little education and training. The employment of an uneven number of unskilled labors by the garment factories results in low productivity and comparatively more expensive apparels. Bangladesh labor productivity is known to be lower when it compared with of Sri Lanka, South Korea and Hong Kong. Bangladesh must look for ways to improve the productivity of its labor force if it wants to compete regionally if not globally. Because of cheap labor if our country makes the labor productivity in the apex position, then we think the future of this sector is highly optimistic.

Research and Training

The country has no dedicated research institute related to the apparel sector. RMG is highly fashion oriented and constant market research is necessary to become successful in the business. BGMEA has already established an institute which offers bachelor’s degree in fashion designing and BKMEA is planning on setting up a research and training institute. These and related initiatives need encouragement possibly intermediated by donor-assisted technology and knowledge transfer. A facilitating public sector role can be very relevant here.

Supportive Government Policy

In contrast to the public sector-led import-substituting industrialization strategy pursued during the first few years after independence, the industrialization philosophy of the government changed rather dramatically from the late 1970s when the emphasis was on export-oriented growth to be spearheaded by the private sector. Towards this end, various policy reforms were implemented in the 1980s and 1990s. Some of these reformed policies contributed considerably to the growth of the RMG industry in Bangladesh.

During the 1980s, a number of incentives were introduced to encourage export activities. Some of them were new like the Bonded Warehouse Facility (BWF), while others like the Export Performance License (XPL) Scheme 37 were already in operation and were improved upon. Also, rebates were given on import duties and indirect taxes, there were tax reductions on export income, and export financing was arranged.  Under the XPL scheme, exporters of non-traditional products received import licenses for specific products over and above their normal percentage allotment based on the f.o.b. value of their exports. Under the Duty Drawback System, exporters of manufactured goods were entitled to get refund of duties and taxes paid on imported inputs used in export production, and also all excise duties paid on exported finished goods. For certain fast-moving items such as RMG, a notional system of duty payments was adopted in 1982-83. Under this system, exporters were exempted from paying duties and taxes on imports used in export production at the time of importation, but were required to keep records of raw and   21packaging materials imported. The duties and taxes payable on the imports were kept in a suspense account. Liabilities to pay the amounts in suspense were removed on proof of exports.

The discussion in this section clearly points to the positive contribution made by policy reforms to the growth of the RMG industry in Bangladesh. In particular, two policies– the SBW facility and the back-to-back L/C system-  led to significant reduction in cost of producing garments and enhanced competitiveness of Bangladesh’s garments exports. It also allowed garment manufacturers to earn more profit which, when necessary, could be used to overcome difficulties arising from weak governance. Furthermore, poor governance, reflected in the leakage of duty-free imported fabrics in the domestic market, paradoxically enough also helped the garment manufacturers to earn extra ‘profit’ and thereby enabled them to absorb the ‘high cost of doing businesses – a fall out of bad governance.