Businesses ride out downturn | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 01, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:01 AM, July 01, 2018


Businesses ride out downturn

Just as Bangladesh's main export earner, the apparel sector, was slowly recovering from the twin industrial disasters of Rana Plaza collapse and Tazreen Fashions fire that another misfortune befell: the terrorist attack in the Holey Artisan Bakery on July 1, 2016.

The attack left the foreign nationals residing in Bangladesh scurrying for an exit from the country or put off their visits to Bangladesh to place work orders, asking the factory owners to come to a third country for meetings.

Furthermore, the majority of the victims -- nine Italians, seven Japanese, three Bangladeshis and one Indian -- were connected to the garment business, directly or indirectly.

All the Italians killed in the attack were garment retailers who had been doing business with Bangladesh for many years. For example, Nadia Benedetti owned a buying house, Studiotex, which sourced more than $50 million worth of garment items from Bangladesh in a year.

Some others like Cristian Rossi and Claudia Maria D'Antona used to source few hundred million dollars worth of garment items in a year from the country.

Among the Bangladeshi victims, both Ishrat Akhond and Abinta Kabir were also involved with the apparel trade.

Akhond was the human resources director at ZXY International, a garment buying house, while Kabir was the daughter of the chairperson of Elegant Group, a major garment exporter.

The Indian victim Tarishi Jain's father Sanjeev Jain has been running a garment business in Bangladesh for the last 15-20 years.

After the brazen attack work orders worth more than $500 million were shifted to some other countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, India and even Myanmar. No factory owner was offered the previously planned full work orders.

In fiscal 2016-17, garment export growth almost ground to a halt: it grew only 0.2 percent, which is the lowest in 15 years.

Bakhtiar Uddin Ahmed, general manager at Fakir Apparels, a Narayanganj-based garment maker, was one of the many who had to travel to Germany to hold an emergency meeting as his buyer refused to come to Dhaka to visit his factory after the attack.

“Now, there is no bad impact of the attack as the buyers are coming in increased numbers to place work orders. Normalcy has been restored. We need not go to a third country to hold meetings,” he said two years on. No buyer now asks about the safety issue in Bangladesh, said Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. “Everybody forgot the terrorist incident.”

The sector is getting abundant work orders now, he said.

Garment shipments increased in the first 11 months of fiscal 2017-18 from a year earlier.

Bangladesh's garment shipments to Italy and Japan, the nationals of which were killed in a terrorist attack in Dhaka in July, remained unhurt -- a development that brought a heavy sigh of relief among exporters.

In fiscal 2015-16, Bangladesh exported garment exports to Italy worth $1.39 billion; and in the first 11 months of the just concluded fiscal year garment items worth $1.33 billion were shipped. 

It is expected that the garment exports to Italy in fiscal 2017-18 will be $1.5 billion.

Similarly, garment exports to Japan stood at $774.47 million in fiscal 2015-16. In the first 11 month of the outgoing fiscal year, it was $787.13 million.

It is expected that the garment export to Japan will cross the $1 billion mark within the next one or two years.

The Japanese nationals killed in the attack were all involved with the metro rail project.

About 500 Japanese nationals had left Bangladesh after the terrorist attack. They were working in 35 projects including the Matarbari ultra super-critical coal-fired power plant and Jamuna railway bridge construction. 

The Japanese took more than six months to come back to their respective jobs after the government ensured special security for them.

The projects were on recess in their absence. Finance Minister AMA Muhith even rushed to Tokyo to discuss the government's security measures for the Japan International Cooperation Agency staff engaged in different projects.

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