One may be happy but not content with the modest achievement in a field that has the potential for reaping at least a medium-sized export bonanza for the country. The case in point is the 21 per cent spurt in export of plastic goods during the first half of 2018-19 fiscal year earning the country US$56.54 million from the limited base the industry has. The better performance in the export of plastic products entails an equally modest raising of the annual export earning target beyond US$100 million. The actual figure fetched in fiscal 2017-18 having been US$98.48 million, the margin of improvement is less than elating. Nevertheless, industry owners and exporters deserve plaudits for pioneering the sector's growth during the last five years. They have diversified production, created demands for products in newer markets, helped by China leaving a space on transition to higher-end production line.
Yet, much more needs to be done to stay the course and set a pattern for exponential growth, the potential for which is being nibbled at like a wood pecker, so to speak. Synchronised efforts will have to be made in clearly identifiable areas for the industry to move to the next higher stage. The first task is to recognise the transitional, high tech, limitlessly diversified and fiercely competitive dimensions of the industry. Entrepreneurs are scrambling for bigger share of the pie not merely by filling the void China is leaving but also investing in modernisation of technologies following in the footsteps of China as well. For instance, electricity need for, say, 2000 sets of conventional plastic machines may be estimated at 40x2000 i.e. 80,000 kilowatts. By contrast, if the latest technology is used, the power consumption may be down to 24,000 kilowatts but with productivity increasing three times. Whereas the ratio of manpower use is six to two between the conventional machines and new tech machines, the spread out benefits of diversification and productivity on the whole could enable higher employability.
The perfectly perishable and biodegradable plastic material is used in home décor, automobiles, medical equipment, toys, etc. With an explosion of online business, it is poised for increasing use in food packaging, home deliveries, jewelry containers/boxes, and other categories of light merchandise. Little wonder 23 countries, most them advanced, import Bangladesh plastic products. While the once-ubiquitous non-biodegradable polythene is considered a menace, environment-friendly products in high demand should be encouraged by all means. Since the export orders are dependent on environmentally safe factories, and the material is also cent percent recyclable , the sector's need for a modern recycling system is of paramount importance. Industry experts suggest that while establishment of linkage and backward industries will impact positively towards the growth of the trend, fiscal incentives for machinery imports may be spurred on to bolster the modernisation process.
Finally, haphazard mushrooming of the industries must not only be discouraged but effectively prohibited. It is of utmost importance that the plastic factories concentrated in old Dhaka be relocated to a purpose-built plastic industrial site away from the metropolitan hub. Daman in Dubai has set an example of zoning for plastic industries and the like. Surely, there are other zoning success stories to take a leaf from.
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