Dress diplomacy to broaden the horizon
We cannot help but be proud and happy when United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres calls Bangladesh a “miracle of development” and full of praise for our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for achieving this miracle. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is truly “the jewel in the crown” on Bangladesh’s development journey. The way it has led the country to become a developed, knowledge-based country defying all odds is unprecedented in today’s world. Even in the days of the global coronavirus crisis, thanks to his bold and astute leadership, the pandemic situation in Bangladesh is much better than that of many developed countries and the economy is rebounding quite quickly.
Congratulations are also due to the Prime Minister for obtaining the “SDG Progress Award” during his participation in the 76th General Assembly of the United Nations. This is a testament to its leadership capabilities, thanks to which Bangladesh has managed to maintain steady progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) despite the pandemic.
However, as the Prime Minister leads the front in transforming Bangladesh into a developed country as envisioned by the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, all the patriotic citizens of the nation are required to do their part in their respective positions.
It is a matter of great pride and prestige for entrepreneurs, workers and other ready-to-wear (RMG) stakeholders that the clothing sector plays a key role in advancing the country’s SDGs and the transition to the status of the UN from a least developed country (LDC) to a developing one as well. In addition, the sector has a crucial role to play in realizing the country’s long-term development vision. The sector has immense potential. But it will be difficult to harness these potentials if we cannot properly highlight the capacity of the sector, progress towards sustainability and other positive stories.
Here, sartorial diplomacy can play a crucial role. That is why we strive to make clothing or economic diplomacy one of the essential elements of Bangladesh foreign policy. Whether it is finding ways to maintain or expand post-graduation post-graduation market access for LDCs, signing new trade agreements such as free trade agreements with exporting countries potential, promote “Made in Bangladesh” products, attract foreign investment or improve the image of the country and explore new markets, sartorial diplomacy can do wonders for the RMG sector in particular and for the country in general.
As part of our apparel diplomacy with a renewed focus on the export market, with former BGMEA President Md Shafiul Islam (Mohiuddin), Vice President Miran Ali and Director Abdullah Hil Rakib I toured the United States and Canada, two of our top export destinations, throughout September. During our visit, we met various players in the fashion supply chain, in particular buyers and delegates from brand associations, and focal people in government, media, academia and industry. development organizations, as well as non-resident Bangladeshis (NRBs).
In total, we have held over 30 meetings with various stakeholders including the United States-Bangladesh Business Council of the United States Chamber of Commerce, the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), the International Advisory Board cotton, International Finance Corporation and Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, and with brands like VF Corporation, Ralph Lauren, Amerex Group, Dreamwave and Canadian Tire Corporation Limited.
In these meetings, I highlighted the country’s continuous economic growth over the past decade, political stability, massive infrastructure development, favorable investment climate, etc. I asked American businessmen and NRBs to invest more in Bangladesh, I asked American brands and retailers to ensure ethical sourcing by offering fair prices, and I urged the United States government to consider reduce tariffs on clothing products from Bangladesh. I also called on AFOA, Bangladesh Missions and NRBs to promote Bangladesh as a safe and sustainable clothing sourcing destination and to encourage consumers and buyers to source more clothing, including non-cotton articles of the country.
We can greatly increase the global market share of RMG sector through modernization of industry, especially in skills, efficiency and technology, and product diversification. In this regard, I have urged US brands and buyers to work with their suppliers in Bangladesh to strengthen their manufacturing capabilities for the items that have demand in the US market. Product diversification is very important to ensure sustained growth of the garment industry in Bangladesh. I also sought the support and cooperation of the US Green Building Council to present the positive image of Bangladesh as a sustainable clothing sourcing destination in the world and highlight the importance of the issue of green prices among brands. and buyers.
In addition, we want the cooperation and support of our foreign missions as well as domestic and international media to tell the world about the achievements and positive stories of the Bangladesh garment industry, dispelling myths, misconceptions and the propaganda against us on the international stage.
Bangladesh is expected to transition from LDC to middle-income country status in 2026. With three more years to prepare for a smooth transition, Bangladesh could benefit from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) facility of the United Nations. European Union until 2029. But if we can achieve the GSP plus facility through our diplomatic maneuvers, we will have the opportunity to take advantage of duty-free exports to the EU, which is one of our main markets representing over 60 percent of our total clothing exports.
With this in mind, we have organized several meetings in Brussels with representatives of Bangladesh in the European Union on the post-GSP “SPG Plus” tariff facility.
We have requested that one of the GSP Plus conditions be exempted from the 7.4 percent import threshold or that an alternative formula be introduced. On request, the EU removed this import threshold condition in its proposal for a GSP 2024-2034 regulation. Therefore, if Bangladesh loses the benefits of GSP, there will be no major obstacles to obtaining the benefits of GSP Plus.
We want to work in coordination with our foreign missions to explore new markets. Our RMG industry can no longer depend solely on the two traditionally favored trading markets: the US and the EU. While we need sartorial diplomacy to preserve the advantages of traditional markets, we should also explore and tap non-traditional markets like Japan, South Korea, Russia, Latin American countries and even China. and India. In addition, this year, we will participate in the Dubai show with a view to expanding our market in the Middle East.
During our tour of North America, we met with the chiefs and other senior officials of the Bangladesh Mission to the United States, the UN and Canada, where we asked them to continue their diplomatic efforts to Bangladesh can enjoy duty-free export benefits for 12 years after graduation from PMA. . All international forums should be emphatically informed that Bangladesh needs a duty-free export facility to recover from the economic impacts of Covid-19 and house over 1.1 million Rohingya, and also to fight against terrorism through economic growth. We also hope that our foreign missions will take steps to properly disseminate the positive stories of the Bangladesh garment industry, especially the remarkable progress of the sector in the areas of occupational safety, social and environmental sustainability and good. -being workers.
Under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh is now moving forward on the road of development, following in the footsteps of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. We have already achieved developing country status and hope to become a developed country by 2041. However, we do not yet have enough foreign investment to become a developed country, although there are many potential sectors of development. ‘investment. In fact, Bangladesh is an ideal country to invest in the textile sector; in particular, the scope and potential for investment in high value-added clothing products in the synthetic fibers sector is quite high. Almost 75 percent of total global textile consumption is non-cotton, with Bangladesh’s share being only 25 percent. Bangladesh is also heavily dependent on imports to meet the demand for fabrics other than cotton. Therefore, the possibilities for investment in textiles other than cotton are great, which can also provide us with import substitution. We hope that non-resident Bangladeshis will come forward to invest in these potential and rapidly changing sectors, and thus they can make a significant contribution to the national economy.
During its four-decade journey, the Bangladeshi RMG industry has gone through tremendous change, overcoming a myriad of challenges. In particular, the changes that have taken place over the past decade in terms of occupational safety, worker well-being and empowerment, and social and environmental sustainability have been hailed around the world. Hong Kong-based supply chain compliance solutions provider QIMA has ranked Bangladesh second in the world for “ethical manufacturing”. The famous brand Walt Disney has decided to restore the supply of clothing to Bangladesh. These are the sweet results of our hard work, massive investments and patience, and we must carry these messages to consumers and buyers around the world through fruitful and persistent sartorial diplomacy. In this way, we can exploit the full potential of the RMG sector.
The author is the president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.