Minister seeks fair prices for apparel

Bangladesh demanded fair prices for garment items from the US retailers and brands as the local apparel exporters spent billions of dollars to strengthen workplace safety that increased the cost of production.

Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi made the call during a meeting with US Ambassador in Bangladesh Earl R Miller at the minister's secretariat office in Dhaka yesterday.

“The cost of production has increased by 25 percent to 30 percent over the last five years due to remedia-tion of the garment factories as per the recommendations of the Accord and Alliance, two foreign agencies for building inspection.”

Munshi shared the info in a press conference after the meeting with Miller.

The minister sought cooperation from the US envoy to convey the message of the price hike plea to the American retailers and brands, as any particular government cannot fix the prices of garment items.

The minister said, for instance, the t-shirt which was supposed to be produced at a cost of $1 earlier now costs as high as $1.25 or $1.30 a piece.

“So, we can demand around 25 percent to 30 percent rise in the price of garment items now.”

“We will hold a meeting with the CEOs of almost all major retailers and brands like Walmart, Inditex, Target and Primark soon to urge them to increase the prices of garment items as we spent a lot of money to fix the loopholes in the factories,” the minister said.

Munshi also said the buyers always demand higher compliance at the factory level, but they do not want to increase the prices of the products.

The ambassador told the minister that he could be a good salesman for Bangladesh in his country during his time as an envoy of the US.

Currently, the amount of the investment of the US investors in Bangladesh is more than $2 billion and more American investors are interested to invest in infrastructure, power, airlines and LNG, he said.

Regarding the reinstatement of the GSP for Bangladesh to the US, the minister informed the envoy about the progresses that the south Asian country has made for workplace safety in the garment sector.

However, neither the minister nor the ambassador shared details about the GSP as Bangladesh's trade privilege was suspended by the US government in June 2013 citing poor labour rights and weak safety standards in the garment factories.

Munshi said 90 percent of the factories have already completed the remediation work.

Bangladesh can play the key role in the US’s Indo-Pacific strategy and reap a significant benefit from it, said Miller. “The US values the partnership of Bangladesh.”

The US is the single largest export destination for Bangladesh as the bilateral trade remains unbalanced toward Bangladesh.

“So we need to work together for reducing the trade imbalance,” he said.

The diplomat said he had already asked many American CEOs to come to Bangladesh as they mainly come to the Indian capital Delhi for investment.

“It is my duty to bring them to Dhaka where there is a ready market of 160 million for the US investors,” the envoy said. “Workers' safety, factory safety and labour rights have a lot of interest in Washington.”

Bangladesh can be an example to the world, not just to the developing countries, but to the world on how workers have access to the labour rights and working in safe condition, he said.

Accord and Alliance have done an extraordinary job over the last couple of years, he said, adding that the amendment to the labour law is very encouraging.