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Coronavirus hurts Bangladesh's apparel exports to US

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Bangladesh's apparel exports to the US sustained a negative growth of over 8.0 per cent during the first quarter of 2021 year-on-year, showing a much slower recovery compared to China and Vietnam.

US apparel imports from China and Vietnam during the January-March period in 2021 witnessed a positive growth by 12.69 per cent and 1.40 per cent respectively, according to data of the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), affiliated with the US Department of Commerce.

Bangladesh fetched US$ 1.53 billion in the Jan-March period of 2021 through apparel exports, down from $1.67 billion during the same period of 2020.

During the first three months of this year, Bangladesh shipped 608.97 million square metres of apparel items, up from 603.11 million square metres in the corresponding period last year.

The country fetched $5.22 billion in 2020, against $5.92 billion in 2019, according to the data.

Readymade garment exporters, however, linked the sluggish demand in the US followed by the higher Covid-19 infection rates and the change in sales pattern, to the poor performance of apparel shipments to its largest destination.

The OTEXA data also showed that the total apparel import by the US declined by 2.46 per cent to $17.41 billion in Jan-March period of 2021, which was $17.84 billion during the corresponding months of 2020.

China, the largest exporter to the US, saw a 12.69 per cent growth in RMG export with earnings amounting to $3.68 billion in the first three months of the current calendar year.

The country shipped apparel items worth $3.27 billion in the same months of the last year.

Similarly, Vietnam's RMG export to the US market grew by 1.40 per cent to $3.42 billion during the period, up from $3.38 billion in the Jan-March period of last year.

The US apparel import from Cambodia witnessed a meagre growth of 0.94 per cent to $774.79 million in the said time frame, according to OTEXA data.

The US apparel import from India fell by 14.43 per cent to $976.54 million in the first quarter of 2021.

Victoria Langro and Sheng Lu from the University of Delaware have recently made a detailed analysis of the Covid's impact on the world's three largest apparel exporters - China, Vietnam and Bangladesh.

According to the analysis, "Bangladesh's apparel export seasonality had experienced a more dramatic change in 2020 than in China and Vietnam. A possible reason behind the phenomenon is the export product structure."

Notably, China and Vietnam export a more diverse range of products, whereas apparel exports from Bangladesh concentrate on basic fashion items, it added.

Citing industry sources, the analysis said between February 2020 and February 2021, US apparel imports from China and Vietnam see a significant structural change - theseinclude more Covid-popular items such as sweaters, smock dresses, and sweatpants, and fewer dresses, shirts, and suits.

However, over the same period, the product structure of US apparel imports from Bangladesh barely changed, and the imports included only a few Covid-popular categories mentioned above.

"In other words, despite order cancellations, garment factories in China and Vietnam seem more likely to receive new sourcing orders than their counterparts in Bangladesh because of advantages in production flexibility and agility," according to the analysis.

When asked, Faruque Hassan, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said the overall RMG exports suffered a significant drop in its major markets last year mainly because of the pandemic that resulted in fall in demands.

Bangladesh shipped mostly woven items to the US, he said, adding that demands for woven items were also declining as people largely stayed at home.

Regarding China and Vietnam, he said the Covid-19 situation was better in both the countries and their exports to the US were also higher.

The BGMEA president, however, expressed hope that exports to the US would see an uptrend from October onwards with the improving US economy after the country's good coverage of the Covid-19 vaccination.

Echoing Mr Hassan, Mahmud Hasan Khan, managing director of Rising Group, said buyers from the US were making more queries in recent months.

He, however, said the unit price still remained low.

"Earnings will increase in coming months followed by a rise in price. But the price is high for raw materials like cotton and yarn prices and the other logistics costs," he noted.

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