Earnings from merchandise exports rebounded in March rising 12.59 per cent year-on-year to $3.07 billion mainly due to a slow recovery in garment shipments over the last few months on the back of relaxed lockdowns in the West.
However, receipts from March's shipment of goods were 10.79 per cent below the monthly export target of $3.44 billion, showed data from the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).
Business activities in Bangladesh had reached near normalcy over the last few months despite the fear of the pandemic and lockdowns in some major export destinations in Europe and the US, which had affected shipment of goods to some extent.
Since the factories were running almost in full swing in Bangladesh with renewed bookings of work orders from the international clothing retailers and brands, the garment sector were able to ship goods timely, achieving good productivity compared to that last year during the time of the pandemic.
Shipment of apparel items, which accounts for more than 84 per cent in national exports a year, is near a path to recovery for a significant amount of knitwear shipments because of a rise in demand for long stays at home by the consumers and for their shorter lead times.
Between July and March of the current fiscal year, Bangladesh earned $23.48 billion from apparel shipments, which was only 2.55 per cent lower than earnings from the items in the corresponding period last fiscal year, reads the data.
Of the total earning from the garment items, $12.65 billion came from knitwear which also registered a 5.85 per cent growth year-on-year while earnings from woven shipments was $10.83 billion, which declined by 10.83 per cent year-on-year.
Demand for woven items declined for a downturn in many formal occasions worldwide in the time of pandemic and lockdowns.
"Considering such a crisis worldwide, the earning from the apparel shipment is highly satisfactory. We need to continue the export and running of the factories," said Md Fazlul Hoque, managing director of Plummy Fashions.
"However, we should also be very careful so that the factory management staff and workers are safe. If the current trend continues in export I am hopeful that the apparel shipment will get better soon," he said.
"We do not have the luxury to shut the factories as we will have to maintain export, payment, employments, and keeping the economy afloat," Hoque told The Daily Star over the phone.
However, Rubana Huq, the outgoing president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), termed the July-March earnings from apparel shipment "depressing".
She said since the first wave of Covid-19 hit the country in March last year, exports started particularly getting affected.
A year-over-year comparison of monthly exports between 2020 and 2021 would be misleading and any growth in export for the months of 2021 has to be calculated with the corresponding months of 2019, she said.
After the third quarter of fiscal 2020-21, export earnings from garment stood at $23.49 billion which was $25.95 billion during the same period of FY2018-19, indicating a 9.49 per cent or $2.46 billion decline.
Knitwear export struggled to retain 0.35 per cent growth in March 2021 over March 2019; the average growth of knitwear export for July-March 2020-21 than July-March 2018-19 is 1.15 per cent in the negative.
Woven garments is facing the toughest time ever, while export has suffered double digit declines since August 2020, and in the month of March 2021 compared to March 2019 woven export fallen by 27.70 per cent.
The nine month average growth between 2021 and 2019 stands 17.62 per cent in the negative.
The price trend continues to worsen as the month of March 2021 posts a 5.11 per cent decline in unit price compared to March 2019. The average decline in unit price for July-March 2020-21 compared to July-March 2018-19 is 3.58 per cent in the negative.
"Such consecutive declines in unit price do not require further analysis to understand the magnitude of vulnerability the industry is dwelling with. The export markets are still struggling to contain the spread of the virus, the third wave has only added to the woes," Huq also said.
"Until recently Bangladesh was faring well in containing the infection; however the present lockdown, which is a timely move by the government, would further impact the already depressed performance of the industry," Huq told The Daily Star in a WhatsApp message.
In the July-March period, the overall earnings from export was $28.93 billion which is a decline of only 0.12 per cent year-on-year. However, the July-March earnings from overall shipments is 4.43 per cent below the periodic target of $30.27 billion, the data also said.
During the July-March period, shipment of goods from some potential sectors registered a positive growth.
For instance, jute and jute goods export grew by 22.94 per cent year-on-year to reach $953.57 million showing a strong rebound after a few years with high demand from buyers.
Carpet export grew by 41.86 per cent to $25.62 million, agricultural products 3.43 per cent to $746.72 million, pharmaceuticals 12.04 per cent to $119.01 million and home textile 41.5 per cent to $846.45 million.
The performance of some sectors was negative during the period.
For instance, shipment of frozen and live fish declined 8.66 per cent to $367.74million, terry towel 4.49 per cent to $28.69 million, headgear/cap 3.3 per cent to $160.82 million and ceramics 8.87 per cent to $22.71 million.