Leather sector holds great promise for development

Syed Mahbubur Rashid | Published: November 20, 2017 09:31:46 | Updated: November 22, 2017 20:04:33


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has declared leather products the national 'Product of the Year' at the opening ceremony of the Dhaka International Trade Fair, 2017. —Photo: bdnews24.com

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has declared leather products the national 'Product of the Year' at the opening ceremony of the Dhaka International Trade Fair, 2017. —Photo: bdnews24.com

The 36th International Footwear Conference of the Confederation of International Footwear Association (CIFA) was held in Dhaka for the first time on November 15, 2017. The conference was attended by China, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam. Footwear sector is a burgeoning one. The conference was held at a very opportune moment.

Before we discuss the issue, we need to review the export scenario of Bangladesh. Bangladesh economy is squeezed between two big economics, i.e., China and India who have vast domestic markets of their own. Not to speak of heavy industries, even in the competition for cosmetics and other daily necessities and toy industries, Bangladesh faces uneven competition from the two countries. These two countries, particularly China, have been supplying these goods at very cheap prices. Earlier the government of Bangladesh took a great initiative to develop toy industries, which proved to be an abortive attempt as cheap Chinese toys were abundantly available although quality of the toys was poor.

Bangladesh has been striving hard and some of its industries have held their heads high. The ready-made garment (RMG) sector has been able to curve out a niche in the gargantuan garment industry of the world and now it is the second biggest exporter in the world. The cement industry, in addition to successfully meeting the requirement of our fast growing real estate sector, is also now exporting to many countries. The growth has been spectacular in the pharmaceutical sector. A few of the companies have been able in creating foreign markets, including the US, as the industry received support from the government. (But they raise medicine prices in the domestic market without considering buying power of the people.) At the time of independence the country's production of food grains was ten million metric tons while the present production is 40 million metric tons. Moreover, crops have been diversified.

A country's economic scenario changes with time both due to domestic and external factors. For example, as China is working to become the world leader both economically and militarily, it is now focused on new types of industries for economic and military strength. Moreover, with increasing cost of living workers' wages are on the rise and products like footwear and toys do not look cost-effective for the buyers any more.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh has turned its face away from the toy industry. A handful of toy industries were established in special economic zones with foreign collaboration and toys made in Bangladesh are now being exported to European countries and Japan.

Now let us come to the main issue. Plenty of opportunities are there for the sponsors of footwear industries in Bangladesh. At present 60 per cent of the world footwear market is occupied by China, but its market share has started to shrink.

Only 25-30 per cent of the total production of hides in Bangladesh is utilised by footwear producers. The hides market is fast expanding as economic growth of the country has helped increase the number of slaughtered cattle heads during the Eid festival to two to three times. As such, there will be no dearth of raw materials in the footwear sector. The quality of our hides is quite good that has earned reputation abroad. However, state-of-the-art slaughter houses should be set up to maintain the quality of hides and skin.

Both tannery and footwear industry have been doing well with renowned entrepreneurs of the country at the helm of affairs. A number of footwear companies have been listed with the stock exchanges. It is expected that from now on there will be many more to follow from tannery and leather product as well as footwear.

IFC conference was inaugurated by the Prime Minister through video conferencing where she declared that two footwear industry zones, one at Chittagong and the other at Rajshahi, will be started soon. It was only appropriate that the Prime Minister chose right time for making the announcement which will initiate a new era in our history of footwear industries. This will inspire the neophytes who, we hope, will rush to the spots to avail themselves of the opportunities.

As encouraging foreign investment is the declared goal of the government, the Prime Minister's announcement will, hopefully, pave the way for more tanneries and footwear industries in the country. The country has second-generation sponsors, who are highly educated, and we have observed some of their shining performances in recent past in garment, footwear, pharmaceutical and food product industries. It is not be too much to expect that Bangladesh will earn US$500 billion through exports of footwear by 2021.

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