Japan has turned into a major export destination for Bangladeshi products as exports to the Far Eastern country are on the rise, thanks to an increased demand for apparel and leather items at competitive prices.
Riding on the back of generalised system of preferences, exports from Bangladesh to Japan increased by 14.90 percent to $862.08 million in 2013-14 fiscal year from $750.27 million in the previous FY, according to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).
Against this backdrop, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is coming to Bangladesh tomorrow on a two-day visit to discuss a spectrum of bilateral issues.
And trade talks are likely to be a veritable focal point as chiefs of major Japanese multinational corporations are expected to be in the entourage of Abe during his maiden visit to Bangladesh.
Export of readymade garment, leather and footwear items constitutes the lion's share of the increased earnings from Japanese market.
Bangladesh shipped apparels worth $572.27 million to Japan in 2013-14 fiscal year. The figure was $478.49 million the previous fiscal, according to the EPB.
A meagre $74.37 million was earned by exporting garment products to Japan in 2008-09 fiscal. This means, the earning shot up more than seven times in just five years, thanks to the "China Plus One" policy that the Japan government adopted in 2008 with a view to reducing overdependence on China.
Japan has a $35 billion market of apparels and Chinese exporters hold 80 percent share of this huge market.
With the adoption of the new policy, Japanese importers started outsourcing garment items and other products from Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries, the industry insiders said.
And Bangladeshi exporters want to seize this golden opportunity.
“We can easily double our garment export to Japan within a year. We need proper branding of our country and our products as the Japanese customers are very quality conscious,” said Fazlul Hoque, former president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
The Japanese premier's visit will help boost bilateral trades, he hoped.
The Japanese government has already given a lot of trade benefits to Bangladesh. So, now is the time for the private sector entrepreneurs of this country to explore the potentials of the Japanese market, said the former chief of the apex platform of garment makers.
“We should also work to attract more Japanese investment,” Hoque added.
The last fiscal year also saw a significant rise in the export of non-garment products to Japan.
In 2013-14 FY, the earning of Bangladesh from exporting leather goods and footwear products to Japan stood at $138.24 million, 65.35 percent higher from a year back.
Saiful Islam, managing director of Picard Bangladesh that makes shoes and leather accessories, said the export rise was largely because of the relaxation of rules of origin by the Japan government. “Japan might be our next export destination for leather goods and footwear items,” Islam said.
Expressing similar hopes, Akhtaruzzaman, managing director of Pacific Quality Control Co Ltd that inspects the quality of garment and other items meant for exporting to Japan, suggested some ways to make this a reality.
“We should reduce lead-time [shipment deadline] to increase export to Japan. Or else, our competitor countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, which are geographically close to Japan, will have an edge over us,” he said.
Meanwhile, many Japanese investors are interested in trying their luck in automobile, garment and fabrics, electronics and fast-moving consumer goods sectors in Bangladesh, according to an official of Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO).
Investment proposals worth $1.2 billion from Japan are pending with the Board of Investment in Bangladesh for a long time, said the JETRO official.
Besides the surge in export earnings, the import picture too gives a reason to cheer. In 2012-13 FY, Bangladesh imported goods worth $1.19 billion from Japan while the amount was $1.45 billion the previous year, according to Bangladesh Bank.