Export proceeds received till the end of the last fiscal year (2019-20) offers a sense of 'feel-good'. Due to the pandemic-induced difficulties from March onwards, one of the likely areas of the economy to suffer badly was export, which mercifully was not the case as export data revealed. Surprisingly, exports fetched USD 3.9 billion in July, which is 44.4 per cent more than the previous month and 0.6 per cent more than the corresponding period of the previous year. This is largely because garment fared well-- more than one expected, fetching USD 3.2 billion-- 14.1 per cent more than the target set by the commerce ministry for July.
However, this is not a compact picture and must not cause any complacency given that export receipts at a particular period of time or month are the result of shipments done months earlier. This, in other words, goes to explain that the receipts for the crucial pandemic months are, in fact, the accomplishments of previous months. However, at a depressing time this should also not be totally ignored while contemplating on future course of action-- in terms of strategies of product development and market access. Although the pandemic is yet to show signs of any let up, markets are beginning to open up and most countries, particularly Bangladesh's major export destinations in the West are trying desperately to get back to pre-lockdown situation. This should offer the country's exporters an opportunity to explore and strategise. Clearly, this is the time when fulfilling compliance protocols would be crucially important-- not just for primary products but also for manufactured products.
Observers are of the view that due to lockdown that restricted shipments, particularly of many primary products such as raw jute, fruits, vegetables and horticulture produces, accessing markets-- both old and new-- would be rather challenging as there may be new regulations relating to sanitary and phyto-sanitary compliance. This may also be applicable to export of processed products including agro-processed foods. In the wake of the global pandemic, it is highly important to also keep an eye on the changes in consumer tastes and preferences, and for this there is obviously a need to adapt products in keeping with market needs. Observers hold that despite the setback suffered by the country's predominant export sector readymade garments due mainly to lockdown, export order cancellation and fewer fresh orders in the past months, the major European and North American retailers are returning, though at a slow pace.
In the meantime, a good deal of export diversion has reportedly taken place, with orders shifting to some of the emerging Asian countries. For Bangladesh to regain its position, it is imperative to maintain and ensure strict compliance norms while catering for traditional as well as niche markets. The government on its part should monitor and assess the impact of the stimulus packages for export industries, and if needed, recast those in consultation with the relevant stakeholders. Recovering the export sector is not confined to earnings in foreign exchange but equally importantly it means employment of thousands of workers who are currently retrenched.