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Dhaka Tribune

Bangladesh’s $50bn RMG export target by 2021

Update : 03 May 2015, 06:12 PM

The garment manufacturing sector in Bangladesh has a new slogan: “$50 billion by 2021.” It’s an ambitious vision to reach $50bn in exports by 2021, the 50th anniversary of the Republic of Bangladesh.

In December, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Brand Forum Bangladesh held a summit to develop a “collaborative and coordinated approach” to achieving this goal. Bangladeshi government and industry leaders are determined, and international partners, including the US government, have pledged to support their ambition.

Today the Bangladeshi garment industry is worth $25bn. The NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights looked at recent export data and industry trends to assess whether the industry could double in the next six years.

To make the $50bn target, Bangladesh will have to grow exports by 10.9% annually (assuming they can reach their projections this year). Over the past six years the garment industry has grown by an average of 13.9% annually – which makes $50bn by 2021 seem within reach.

But there are a few caveats to consider

Rethinking the growth rate: The average growth rate of 13.9% over the last six years is skewed by a 43% jump in garment exports between 2010 and 2011 - a jump we’re unlikely to see again. Excluding that year, export growth averaged just 8.8% during the other five years.  Looking forward, a more accurate annual estimate might be somewhat lower than 13.9%.

#Counting on global demand: To meet their projections, Bangladesh will have to outperform the global apparel industry. The Asia-Pacific apparel export market is expected to grow by 9% annually through 2017, while the global apparel industry is expected to grow by just 5.1% through 2018.  To achieve 10.9% growth, Bangladesh will have to gain market share from competitors like China and India all while they seek to grow their own garment exports.

#This year’s setback:  Over the last three months, the World Bank estimated political unrest cost Bangladesh’s economy $2.2bn. Partially as a result, fiscal year 2014-15 began on a low note, with garment exports achieving an annualized growth rate of just 3.2%. The more Bangladesh struggles to meet near-term growth projections because of instability, the less confidence we can have that the garment sector will meet its long term targets consistently.

Addressing weak infrastructure: In 2014, the World Economic Forum rated Bangladesh’s infrastructure 127th out of 144 countries evaluated. In order to accommodate an additional $25bn in RMG exports, the Bangladeshi government will need to make considerable infrastructure investments in the coming years.

Our assessment is that a valuation of $50bn by 2021 is achievable, but far from guaranteed. To stay on track toward this goal, Bangladesh can’t afford the unsustainability that political unrest, poor working conditions and inadequate infrastructure bring to the garment sector. To make the “$50 billion by 2021” slogan a reality, the garment industry in Bangladesh will have to adopt another refrain since Rana Plaza: “Business as usual is not an option.”

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