Bangladesh's furniture sector could emerge as a major exporter in five years, as manufacturers have already strengthened their capacities to grab a share of the global market.
“We have potential. We can raise our share, riding on our advantage in the area of labour costs,” said KM Akhtaruzzaman, chairman of Akhtar Group.
The quality of the furniture produced by Bangladeshi companies is on par with international standards, while prices are lower, he added.
Nazrul Islam, general manager of Furnitec Industries Ltd, said, “International buyers can't believe their eyes when they see that Bangladesh is capable of producing such high quality furniture.”
Furnitec, which produces mostly office furniture, has exported its products to Japan, the US and the UK.
They spoke to The Daily Star on the sidelines of a three-day Bangladesh Furniture and Interior Decor Expo at Jamuna Future Park in Bashundhara, Dhaka.
The fair, which ended yesterday, was organised mainly to showcase to international buyers the country's strength in furniture making. A large number of foreign visitors and buyers had visited the fair venue.
Local furniture makers Hatil, Brothers Furniture, Nadia Furniture, Furnitec, Navana, Athenas, Regal and Partex had set up pavilions to showcase their products.
Akhtaruzzaman, the country's first furniture exporter, began exporting furniture in 1995. At present, about 40 companies export products to 46 countries, with the Middle East being a major buyer.
Asian countries are now the main suppliers of furniture to the global market worth around $350 billion. However, Bangladesh has a nominal share; it was $42.58 million in 2013-14.
Although Bangladesh's presence in the international market is insignificant, the sector has come a long way from carpentry-based small shops in the last couple of decades.
Bangladesh relied heavily on furniture imports till 2000, buying 65 percent of its furniture less than two decades ago. But imports have now dropped to 10 percent, thanks to a number of high-quality local manufacturers.
The local market grew from Tk 3,000 crore to Tk 22,000 crore annually, said Akhtaruzzaman, also the president of Bangladesh Furniture Exporters Association.
He said the sector would be the second largest export item of the country after garment. The government needs to come up with policies and cash incentives so exporters can be competitive in the global market.
Akhtaruzzaman said the sector also provides a huge opportunity for employment generation with minimum skills. The sector would be able to create jobs for 1 crore people within five years from 25 lakh at present.
Akhtar Group exports furniture to five countries, including Australia, Japan, the UK, the USA and Canada.
A Karim Mojumdar, managing director of Nadia Furniture, said, “We now have factories that are fully compliant. Many big groups have also entered the industry.”
“We are not being able to compete in the global stage as Bangladesh has to produce furniture mostly from imported raw materials, while our competitors have their own raw materials.”
The government would have to provide incentives to capture the global market in a big way, he added. His company does not export furniture at the moment, but Mojumdar said they have received queries from a number of buyers.
Khaled Shaifullah Murad, assistant manager for marketing and sales at Brothers Furniture, said the sector would grow tremendously in the coming years.
China is the leading exporter of furniture, with nearly half of the global market share. Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam also have a hold of the global market.