BGMEA election in mind
The presidential candidates in the upcoming BGMEA polls promise to protect the country's apparel sector from any bad impacts stemming from the ongoing global recession, uphold the export growth of RMG products, and safeguard the interests of the exporters.
They take the vow as Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the country's biggest apparel trade body, is all set to host its presidential elections on February 24.
An insight into the two presidential candidates, their agenda for future, and the possible outcomes their decisions will present, may deliver a clarion call for action.
Attaining victory is now the primary thing in the minds of the two candidates -- Shahadat Hossain Kiron, managing director of Dekko Group, and Abdus Salam Murshedy, managing director of Envoy Group. They now rush from door to door in plea for votes, wishing to preside over the 2009-10 tenure.
The Daily Star exclusively talks with both the candidates to know how they intend to better the country's highest export earning sector, the readymade garments (RMG).
Shahadat Hossain Kiron promises to take measures to safeguard the country's apparel sector from any fallouts stemming from the ongoing global financial crisis and uphold the export growth of RMG products.
“My first priority will be to provide a buffer against possible blows from the global recession and to keep steep export growth of the RMG products. I also plan to develop entrepreneurship in the sector, if I am elected,” Kiron says.
He says achieving a yearly export target of $14 billion worth of RMG products even amid the recession is possible only with the right policies of the government.
"I firmly believe every stakeholder will take care of the RMG sector for the greater interest of the nation," Kiron said. He said he would also try to enhance the image of the garment owners and strengthen the research cell of the BGMEA.
He says BGMEA will continue its initiatives to develop skilled workers and mid-level managers, so the country becomes more competitive in the global RMG market. Kiron says Bangladesh will be able to achieve the RMG export target worth US$25 billion within 2013 if the exporters get proper help.
He says he will continue lobbying with the US government for the passage of the New Partnership Development Act (NPDA), with support from the Bangladeshi government. The act will help Bangladeshi products get duty- and quota-free access to the USA.
The recent political changes in the US resulted in many changes all over the world, and Bangladesh has to rethink many issues accordingly. The fate of duty- and quota-free access to the US market now depends on the go-ahead of Obama's administration, Kiron adds.
"If we can manage a duty- and quota-free market access to the US market, the export volume of our apparel items will double within one year," he says.
Kiron is all for further market and product diversification for sustainable growth of the RMG sector. He says Bangladesh should not only target the EU and US markets, but diversify both markets and products.
He also promises to contain labour unrest in the RMG sector by negotiating with workers, labour leaders, owners and the government.
"But we must handle the issues efficiently as the future of the country's apparel business is largely dependent on the welfare of the workers," Kiron says.
"We need to enhance our negotiation skills to extract benefits from different trade talks with organisations like the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and get better prices for the items sold to foreign buyers," he says.
On many occasions, apparel exporters do not receive better prices for their products due to a lack of negotiation skills, he says. The BGMEA will take initiatives to train exporters to enhance trade negotiation skills.
No industry could be leeway to becoming sick anymore, every industry is important to the country's cumulative economic growth, he says.
"I will try to help all the manufacturers and exporters, especially the sick industry owners, so no more industries become sick in the country," he says.
He urges the government to increase electricity generation, make high-ways and alternative ports, develop skill of workers and management, ease the visa regime for the foreign buyers and make cheaper the internet connectivity.
Abdus Salam Murshedy says his first priority will be to protect the interests of the BGMEA members.
He says he will try to revive the image of the garment businessmen, as many manufacturers are pinpointed on illogical and irrational grounds.
"It's true that many factories have faced some oddities for different reasons, but it's important to dig out the reasons behind the acts,” says Murshedy.
"I want to enhance the image of the garment manufacturers, exporters and the country as a whole through business," Murshedy says.
He urges the government to urgently form a taskforce, focusing on the RMG sector by involving the garment manufacturers, exporters, stakeholders and the government to offset the negative impacts of the global recession.
The taskforce will oversee the measures taken by the competing countries on how to cope with the recession, he says.
The government should also introduce a special exchange rate for the US dollar, at least temporarily, to face the probable impacts of recession, he adds.
According to Murshedy, the infrastructure of the country does not facilitate smooth running of business. "If I am elected, I will urge the government to improve infrastructure for the greater interest of business," he says.
Also a shareholder of a bank, Murshedy advocates reducing bank interest rate on lending and bringing it down to a single digit for the growth of business in the country.
He says presently the country's RMG sector is suffering from a 25 percent shortage of skilled workers and mid-level managers. "I will try to address this issue," he says.
With regards to passing the trade bill in the US Congress, relating to duty and quota-free access to the US market, Murshedy says it depends on many conditions and the government should come forward to get the ball rolling.
Murshedy says labour unrest takes place not only because of delayed payment to workers -- the existing market situation that often sees rising prices of commodities is also a contributing factor.
The prices of basic commodities have gone up abnormally in the local market. As a result, people belonging to the limited income groups are under pressure, he adds.
He also says the government should take measures to strengthen the trade departments of the foreign missions, as they can play a vital role in new market penetration.
"I will request the government to reorganise such trade departments of Bangladesh located across the globe," he says.
Murshedy is impressed by the performance of the young business personalities in the country. They are popularly known as the 'second generation of businessmen' and doing a good job, he says.
"We have already produced many entrepreneurs, we need to nurture them now," says Murshedy, who is also a director of the current board of the BGMEA.