Competitiveness of the Ready-Made Garment Industry in Bangladesh

Introduction:
The United States was the main export destination for Bangladeshi RMG products in the early 1990s followed by the European Union, but the European Union has surpassed the United States over time. These two destinations generate more than 90 per cent of the total RMG export earnings of Bangladesh (BGMEA and the Export Promotion Bureau websites; and Quddus and Rashid, 2000).
Ready-Made Garment Industry in Bangladesh
Ready-Made Garment Industry in Bangladesh
The shares of other importers, such as Australia, Canada, China, Japan and the Russian Federation as well as countries in the Middle East, in the total RMG export earnings of Bangladesh are minimal. This section of the paper focuses on surface-level competitive performance of the Bangladesh RMG industry in the United States and the European Union markets only. In addition, the performance of China and India along with Bangladesh as RMG suppliers to international markets is also considered for comparative analysis.

(a) Export Competitiveness in the United States Market
Bangladesh has experienced some product diversification in its export of garments to the United States market in recent years compared with the early 1990s.6 However, the country’s performance in upgrading its products is not significant with regard to the United States market (Haider, 2006). The country experienced a sharp increase in the export of garment products to the United States market in the 1990s, but faced declines in export earnings from that country in 2002 and 2003, followed by slow increases since 2004. The exports of India also increased rapidly in the 1990s, although that country experienced comparatively slow progress in the last few years. However, the RMG exports of China to the United States have increased at a startling rate over the years. For example, the textile and garment export earnings of China, India and Bangladesh from the United States were $3.6 billion, $0.8 billion and $0.4 billion respectively in 1990, and increased to $22.4 billion, $4.6 billion and $2.5 billion respectively in 2005. Such rapid expansion in the exports of China represents a major challenge to other exporters. Bangladesh exported a total of 99 types of products in the textile and garment category to the United States in 2005, but most of the category’s contribution was minimal. For India and China, the number of textile and garment product categories exported in the same year to the United States was 161 and 167 respectively.

Category 340 (cotton non-knit shirts, man and boy) was the highest contributor to the export earnings of Bangladesh from the United States, amounting to $332 million in 2005. The export earnings of only eight categories8 crossed the $100 million export benchmark in the same year for the country. A total of 16 categories of exports crossed the $50 million benchmark and 31 categories crossed the $10 million export benchmark .

For India, the highest contributor was category 369 (miscellaneous cotton manufactures), accounting for $439 million in export earnings from the United States in 2005. Also in the same year, a total of 12, 20 and 56 categories crossed the $100 million, $50 million and $10 million export benchmarks respectively.

However, the scenario differed significantly for China. The highest contributor for China in the United States market was category 670 (man-made fibre flat goods/ handbags/luggage), which amounted to $2,066 million in 2005. In the same year, 9, 62, 78 and 124 categories crossed the $500 million, $100 million, $50 million and $10 million export benchmarks respectively.

The market of India seems to be more diversified compared with that of Bangladesh, and the market of China is significantly more diversified compared with that of Bangladesh or India. Figures 1 to 3 also indicate that the exports of Bangladesh are concentrated mainly in cotton or man-made fibre-related products. In contrast, the trade of China and India is diversified in all the fibre groups.

(b) Export Competitiveness in the European Union Market
Bangladesh has experienced both quantitative and qualitative changes in exporting garment products to the European Union market during the period 1996-2005. The textile and garment export earnings of Bangladesh from the European Union increased from 1.2 billion euros in 1996 to 3.7 billion euros in 2005. For India and China, the corresponding earnings increased from 3 billion and 5.3 billion euros in 1996 to 5.3 billion and 21.1 billion euros in 2005 respectively. Garment products generate the major share of Bangladesh’s export earnings from the European Union. However, both textile and garment products in China and India contribute to the export earnings from the European Union. For example, garment products on average generated more than a 95 per cent share of the total textile and garment exports to the European Union from Bangladesh during the period 1996-2005. The corresponding shares for India and China stand at below 75 per cent and 80-90 per cent respectively.

The top five product groups contributed 76 per cent of the total garment export earnings of Bangladesh from the European Union in 1996, and that share increased to 82 per cent in 2005. The corresponding changes for India and China were from shares of 62 per cent and 34 per cent in 1996 to 54 per cent and 45 per cent in 2005 respectively. This trend demonstrates that product diversification in Bangladesh is lower than that of India and China in exporting garment products to the European Union market. Knit garments from Bangladesh have gained remarkable access to the European Union market during the period 1996-2005. Duty- and quota-free access of garment products manufactured under “two-stage local transformation” (yarn to fabrics, and fabrics to garment) have accelerated the exports of knit garment products from Bangladesh to the European Union. As the knit textile subsector is relatively less capital intensive and requires relatively simple technologies, it managed to undergo rapid expansion, benefiting from the European Union Generalized System of Preferences. The woven part of the category has failed to utilize that facility owing to a lack of sufficient backward linkages. In contrast to the European Union, both knit and non-knit products have entered the United States market simultaneously, as no special tariff or tax reduction incentive was available there for the import of garment products from Bangladesh.

The product-mix of garment products exported from Bangladesh to the European Union has changed significantly during the period 1996-2005. The share of shirts in total garment exports from Bangladesh to the European Union has decreased, whereas the shares for overcoats, jackets, sweaters, suits and some other garment products have increased in recent years. These changes demonstrate that Bangladesh is achieving some level of product diversification in exporting garment products to the European Union. In addition, a gender analysis indicates that Bangladesh has achieved some upgrading of its products recently in terms of exporting garment products to the European Union. Garments for females are treated as upgraded products compared with garments for males, since they add more value on average. The earnings of Bangladesh from the export of garments for females to the European Union has increased during the period 1996-2005 (Haider, 2006).

(c) Price Competitiveness

China and some other competitors of Bangladesh have implemented sharp price-cutting policies in exporting garment products over the last few years, but Bangladesh has failed to respond effectively to such policies. China was able to drop the export price of 29 garment categories10 by 46 per cent11 on average in the United States within a year, from $6.23 per sq metre in December 2001 to $3.37 per sq metre in December 2002. However, all other suppliers were able to drop the price by only 2 per cent, from $3.50 per sq metre to $3.41 per sq metre during the same period. By the end of 2002, China had underpriced all other exporters to the United States in 22 out of 29 garment categories and it had underpriced others in 26 out of 29 categories by March 2003 (American Textile Manufacturers Institute, 2003). Moreover, China rapidly managed to be price competitive in the European Union and other major international markets. For example, the average unit export price of garment products integrated in the third stage of the Multifibre.

Arrangement phase-out decreased from 11,600 euros per ton in 2001 to 9,500 euros per ton in 2002 for Bangladesh in the European Union, whereas the corresponding decrease for China in that market was from 13,500 euros to 8,800 euros per ton (European Commission, 2003). Bangladesh needs to respond to such price-cutting policies of its rivals in order to remain competitive in the quota-free global market.

(d) Lead Time
Lead time refers to the time required for supplying the ordered garment products after the export order has been received. In the 1980s, the usual lead time in the garment industry was 120-150 days for the main garment supplier countries of the world; it has been reduced to 30-40 days in the current decade.12 However, in this regard the Bangladesh RMG industry has improved little; for example, the average lead time is 90-120 days for woven garment firms and 60-80 days for knit garment firms. In China, the average lead time is 40-60 days and 50-60 days for woven and knit products respectively; in India, it is 50-70 days and 60-70 days for the same products respectively.13 Shortening the lead time is the most urgent priority task for Bangladesh. The best way is to develop domestic backward linkages with the aim of reducing “production and distribution” time.14 Such a strategy would contribute to enhancing the deep-level performance of the industry and would have a positive impact on surface-level performance. An alternative solution would be to establish a central or common bonded warehouse in the private sector for storing raw materials usable in the export-oriented garment industry, with special incentives such as duty-free import. While such a solution is the fastest way to improve surface-level competitiveness by reducing lead time, it carries the risk of delaying deep-level competitive performance-enhancing initiatives and the long-term development of the industry.

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