Shift focus to Asia to boost exports | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 08, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 09:00 AM, July 08, 2020

Shift focus to Asia to boost exports

Says Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue

Apart from the traditional markets like Europe and the US, Bangladesh should focus more on the Asian markets to revive export earnings during the time of the pandemic, said Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).

About 80 per cent of the country's exports are destined for the European and American markets, while Asian nations don't get due importance though they hold huge potential, he told The Daily Star in an interview recently.

The Asian markets, especially India and China, are very important for Bangladesh and China has recently allowed duty-free facility for 97 per cent of Bangladeshi products.

"This is a big opportunity for our country. We need to utilise this to the full."

Bangladesh's exports to China are rising considerably as the demand for Bangladeshi products, especially garment items, is growing among the Chinese middle-income people.

China has a big consumer base but all its consumers can't afford the high-end garment items it makes.

As a result, many Chinese clothing brands are sourcing garment items from Bangladesh at competitive prices for their domestic customers although China is the largest apparel supplier worldwide with a 34 per cent global market share.

Bangladesh's export to China has increased to nearly $1 billion in recent years from less than $100 million even seven to eight years ago.

Moreover, some work orders for garment products are being diverted to Bangladesh from China because of the high cost of production in the manufacturing sector of China.

India too can be another big market for Bangladesh as it enjoys zero duty benefit in the neighbour's market, although there is 12 per cent countervailing duty.

Thanks to the duty benefit, shipment to India crossed the $1 billion-mark last year, with the garment being a major export item.

"We need to further explore the Indian market to reap the maximum benefit of the duty privilege," Rahman said.

Japan could be another promising market for Bangladesh as shipment to Japan has been accelerating because of high demand for Bangladeshi goods and zero duty benefit. Exports to Japan crossed the $1 billion threshold in fiscal 2018-19.

Bangladesh's overall export earnings fell 16.93 per cent year-on-year to $33.67 billion in the immediate past fiscal year as the ongoing pandemic affected the global supply chain and dampened demand worldwide.

Against this backdrop, new destinations like China, India and other South Asian nations that comprise one of the biggest consumer markets of the world can give a breathing space to the exporters of Bangladesh, Rahman said.

Export earnings in fiscal 2019-20 were 25.99 per cent short of the target at $45.50 billion.

So this fiscal year, Bangladesh should try to reach the level of fiscal 2018-19's earnings of $40.53 billion.

"And it is possible by penetrating deeper into the markets of India and China."

Rahman, however, said export revival would be a bit challenging as earnings were in the negative territory even before the onset of coronavirus.

More emphasis should be given to thee sectors that performed strongly last fiscal year, such as jute and jute goods, footwear and pharmaceuticals, to ramp up sales.

"Fortunately, the European and US markets are reopening gradually. So exporters should start reengaging with their European and American business partners as soon as possible."

The supply chain and other segments of the business should be improved significantly to lower the cost of doing business such that local exporters remain competitive when they meet their match in the global market, Rahman said.

"For example, logistic services should be made more efficient for the sake of smooth transportation of goods."

In the immediate past fiscal year, Bangladesh's monthly export earnings were upwards of $2 billion until they crashed to only 0.52 billion in April, the lowest in the history of Bangladesh, as factories were shut and shipments suspended to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

However, since May exports started to look up and reached $1.46 billion before hitting $2.71 billion in June, the last month of the fiscal year.


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