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Is it time for Bangladeshi watches?

  • Published at 09:50 pm July 24th, 2019
Is it time for Bangladeshi watches?
If not now, then when? Bigstock

We could tap into the potential of Bangladeshi watchmakers

A wrist-watch is your mechanical best friend who goes with you everywhere. Men and women of all ages cherish owning one that serves the purpose of both fashion and utility. 

Although wrist-watches were invented in the early 20th century, soldiers’ experience of the World War created a sudden rise in renowned brands manufacturing wrist-watches. As demands for foreign watches rose, new names emerged from all over the world, including the sub-continent. 

But despite taking pride in making laptops and smart-phones, Bangladesh is yet to manufacture a wrist-watch even in this digital era.

In one of the capital’s busiest corners, Patuatuli, clock makers started to flock to well decorated showrooms in the early 1980s. At present, there are about 300 shops selling clocks and watches of various prices. 

Most watches are imported from China, while very few of the showrooms display exotic ones. Others import spare parts and segments from abroad for assembling. 

This thriving business is heavily dependent on foreign imports of mixed quality watches, which range within the affordability of the masses. 

The negligible few locals who dared to manufacture themselves back in the 80s have now stopped due to the markets being flooded by cheap Chinese watches. According to them, it takes as little as Tk50,000 to start a wrist-watch manufacturing plant. 

The materials can be locally obtained, only the machinery needs to be imported. The machines can be imported from China, Japan, or Switzerland. 

A clock manufacturing plant is a cottage industry, meaning that every member of a small family can help in the business. Very few of the Patuatuli, Chawkbazar sellers own such machines as can be used to make wall clocks. 

If the machines are used to make the watches, each can be sold for under Tk200. But the market is flooded with cheap Chinese ones, which are very low in quality. 

Although there is a Watch Importers and Manufacturers Association, it is surprising to find no horological institute in the country. A dedicated institute like this may conduct research and training for young entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. It may also create an impact in promoting “Made in Bangladesh” watches.

The entrepreneurs in this sector face hurdles regarding taxes. In order to market local made watches or clocks, they must pay 15% VAT. 

Such a policy is likely to demotivate them. What is more surprising is that once, there used to be 250-300% levy on every Chinese watch import; that has now come down to only 15%. 

Even in such an obstructive business environment, these local manufacturers are making around 100,000 clocks every month. But the demand is more than that for wrist-watches. 

With a little help from the government, “Made in Bangladesh” watches with fashionable designs can not only reclaim local markets, but grab European ones. 

The dependence on Chinese watches must be drastically reduced in order to make room for the local industries. This small industry must not be taxed, and the government must declare it as a cottage industry in order to create new work opportunities.

Aiman R Khan is an Advocate, Dhaka Judge Court.