Lockdown After Eid: Govt mulls allowing RMG units to stay open
The government considers allowing garment factories to be open so that the biggest export-earning sector can continue production and keep their commitment with international buyers.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi yesterday talked about the plan amid concerns among garment owners that shipment will suffer seriously if they have to suspend operations during the 14-day lockdown beginning from July 23.
Entrepreneurs said the July-August period is the prime season for apparel manufacturers since sales rise at that time in the western market for winter and Christmas. Of the total apparel items shipped from Bangladesh, 40 percent are exported during these two months.
Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 infection surge and the rising death toll, the government on July 13 imposed curbs on factory operations as part of containment measures.
After an emergency meeting yesterday, apex trade bodies of textile and garment manufacturers, and exporters, demanded the government keep factories open during the lockdown, citing that they would incur a big loss otherwise.
Munshi said he had been facing a lot of pressure from the business communities, especially export-oriented garment-makers, to let the factories stay open.
"I will have a meeting with the government high-ups and expert committee very soon to find ways to keep the factories running during the lockdown."
Suspension of production for lockdown and Eid holidays for nearly three weeks is a long time, and the period may be shortened after discussion with the government high-ups, he said, adding, "We are also thinking about some alternatives now so that both lives and livelihoods are protected during the pandemic time."
For instance, the period of lockdown may be shortened for the garment sector as the infection rate is very low among the workers and because testing and medical facilities are available for them, the minister also said.
Usually, July and August are the most important months for shipping of next winter and Christmas sales and for booking work orders for next summer, he added.
"An opportunity has also been created for garment businesses, as a lot of work orders have been coming to Bangladesh even during the pandemic. We should grab this opportunity while catering to the work orders on time."
A senior official of the commerce ministry said the government is also considering allowing factories that process edible oil, sugar and essential commodities to run, in order to the keep supply chain of essentials and prices intact.
After the meeting, Faruque Hassan, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said they will send a letter to the cabinet secretary to place their demands to keep factories running during lockdown.
"We will face a severe crisis if factories are closed down during the lockdown," said Hassan after almost a four-hour long meeting in this regard.
"We want the factories to run as the production is still going on during this time."
The BGMEA in a statement said it will also hold a meeting with the cabinet secretary, demanding the factories be allowed to run during lockdown. They will also send a letter to the FBCCI in favour of its demand.
"Many of us have already shipped our goods and assured our buyers of sending goods timely," said Mohammad Ali Khokon, president of Bangladesh Textile Mills Association.
If the factories cannot run, the garment suppliers will have to face the expensive air shipments, for which many will be affected, said Shahadat Hossain Sohel, chairman Bangladesh Terry Towel and Linen Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
Local garment suppliers have been sending goods at $4.30 per kg from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airportr to London.
The rates will go even higher if international retailers and brands want to get their goods within set time, he said.
"No factory owner is capable of bearing the cost of expensive air fares during a pandemic, which had already badly affected the global supply chain."
Abdul Kader Khan, president of Bangladesh Garment Accessories and Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said if the garment factories are not kept open, the accessories business will also not be able to run during the pandemic, as the accessories are the backward linkage industry for the garment sector.
"We will not get the payment from the garment manufacturers if they cannot run in the peak season," Khan also said.
The meeting was held at the Gulshan office of BGMEA. It was attended by Md Jashim Uddin, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, AKM Salim Osman, president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, former presidents of BGMEA and leaders of terry towel and garment accessories sectors.