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Bangladesh Pips India in Garment Exports

Business Standard
Thursday, February 05, 2009

New Delhi: For the first time, Bangladesh has garnered more market share than India in garment exports to the US, the largest importer of garments.

Recession-hit retailers in the US and Europe are increasing their purchases from Bangladesh as it is able to supply garments at a relatively less price due to low labour cost and better economies of scale, experts said.

Data collected by the Apparel Export Promotion Council (AEPC), the body for the promotion and facilitation of garment-manufacturing and their exports, show Bangladesh overtook India after August 2008. While Bangladesh’s share increased by 10 per cent, India’s share went down by 3 per cent in the US market in the same time period.

For India, the US, which imports $70 billion worth of textile products every year, is the largest market, accounting for nearly a fourth of ready-made garments exported.

Bangladesh has now taken the fifth position, which was previously occupied by India, in the list of largest garment-exporting countries to the US, pushing India to the sixth position.

The AEPC estimates that exports of ready-made garments from India are likely to fall 24 per cent short of the $11.62 billion target for the current fiscal and may total up to $8.78 billion. Interestingly, Bangladesh is expected to touch $11 billion in the July-June period of 2008-09 period, compared with $10.7 billion in the same period of 2007-08.

Though China has always been a competition for Indian exporters and it continues to remain the largest supplier to both the US and Europe, it is the countries like Bangladesh that have started taking over India.

“On an average, Bangladesh has larger factories than India and they are more productive, and have low labour cost, which is helping them in attracting buyers from the US and Europe,” said Devangshu Dutta, chief executive officer of Third Eyesight, a consultancy firm.

Incidentally, Bangladesh has duty-free access to the EU market.

India’s labour rates are 129 per cent higher than that of Bangladesh. While the labour cost in India is 62 US cents per hour, it is merely 27 cents in Bangladesh, according to AEPC.

Since customers have started avoiding China due to labour problems and the high cost of production there, the business has shifted to alternative sources like Bangladesh as they are more competitive, productive and deal in large volumes, added Dutta.

Another point of view for Bangladesh and other countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, which are doing well in export of apparels despite the ongoing global financial turmoil, is that they get cheap fabric from China and also support their manufacturers. “All integrated textile countries are facing this problem what India’s going through today,” said DK Nair, secretary general, Confederation of Indian Textile Industry (CITI)

India has to establish large factories and strengthen its fabric production in order to create economies of scale to deal with the current problems, added Nair. About 97 per cent of fabric production in India lies in the decentralised sector.

Exporters have been demanding flexibility from the government in terms of increasing duty drawback rates to 14.65 per cent, interest-free loans for investment in machinery and availability of export credit at international rates among other demands.

H.K. Maggu, managing director of Jyoti Apparels, said: “In the face of economic slowdown, we have not become competitive though business is there. It is going to the discounted markets like Bangladesh.” It is the only country which can produce textile items at least 20-30 percent cheaper than China.

What is worrisome is the fact that the exporters are claiming that there would be no business beyond March 2009. Jyoti Apparel’s order book today stands at Rs 20 crore, but according to Maggu, the number of fresh orders has declined drastically and after March the units would be working half their capacity if things don’t improve.

Clothing Manufacturing Association of India president Rahul Mehta said orders for the next season were not coming and it would be very difficult for India to catch up with Bangladesh unless right kind of policies were put in place.

Calling the two stimulus packages announced by the government extremely disappointing, most exporters are of the view that there was virtually nothing in those packages and they only talked of release of previously committed funds as incentives.

India has to find the gaps in the existing infrastructure and fix the problems, said Dutta.

According to a senior textile ministry official, seeing the contraction in demand in the West, the ministry has written to the finance ministry seeking restoration of the duty drawback rates to help the garment exporters.

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