Can Bangladesh Surpass China in Apparel Exports?

In the last couple of decades, Bangladesh and China formed an exemplary alliance defined by mutual trust, respect, and affinity. Cooperation between China and Bangladesh are also rising exponentially day by day. Amid this friendly relationship, Bangladesh now considers China as a competitor. This consideration is not for geopolitical concerns or participating in strategic alliances. Indeed, this is regarding apparel export to the global market. Although China is the top contributor in the large garment markets of the USA, the UK, and the EU, Bangladesh is sitting in second place and breathing down its neck. In terms of apparel exports, now our competition in the global market is with only one country – China!

China was the hegemonic apparel exporter to the global market before the trade war with the USA. Just as the trade war eased, Covid-19 hit. Following this, China’s export has fallen behind drastically. China’s lost market left other competitors in the lurch. At present, Bangladesh is holding the second position in the international apparel market. Owners of garments in the country were eager to take the opportunity to topple China. What the exporters had dreamt for years, has partially come true a few days ago: Bangladesh ranked first in apparel exporting to European Union, surpassing China for the first time.

European Union imports most of its apparel from China. But in the first eleven months of last year, Bangladesh came to the top. According to the latest Eurostat data, 27 EU countries imported $9,517 million worth of ready-made garments from non-EU countries in January-November. Of that, China has exported $2,798 million worth of clothing. The export growth is 19.29% more than the same period of the previous year. On the other hand, during the same period, garments worth $2,118 million have been exported from Bangladesh to the EU. In that case, Bangladesh’s export growth is double that of China, 38% to be precise. Thus, the apparel industry of Bangladesh has ranked first in the growth of export earnings from the European Union.

Bangladesh has also turned around in the major markets regarding apparel export. Despite the global crisis and economic turmoil, Bangladesh’s apparel exports to the United States and the United Kingdom have increased. Bangladesh’s garment shipments to the United States have grown by nearly 25%, resulting in increased exports to traditional and non-traditional US market. Moreover, Bangladesh exported 3 thousand 25 crores pounds worth of clothing to the UK market last year, which is the highest number of the exported garment in Bangladesh in a single year. Despite the global recession and epidemic, Bangladesh retained the second position in apparel exports in 2020 and 2021. However, as always, China holds the first position in apparel exports to the UK market.

Again, China is Bangladesh’s strong competitor in the international apparel market. Bangladesh is the second (third in some cases) leading country in exporting essential apparel around the globe and this demand is increasing continuously in the global market. The end to the Russia-Ukraine war is not on the near horizon, Bangladesh’s exports to the EU plus countries like UK, Canada, and USA can be expected to continue to increase. Importing countries are looking forward to Bangladesh as the cost of making clothes in China is also higher than in Bangladesh. Due to political instability in Myanmar and Ethiopia, we are getting additional orders from the US, which has put Bangladesh in an advantageous position. 

It is worth mentioning that 51 of the world’s top 100 garment factories are in Bangladesh. After such investment in the production stage, the entrepreneurs of the country are now very confident in capturing the competitive market. If this trend continues, Bangladesh will be the largest apparel exporter in Europe. Moreover, exports of our readymade garments to non-traditional markets like Australia, India, South Korea, and the UAE have also increased. Bangladesh has already occupied the first position in the world in the export of denim and T-shirts, and progress in other apparel sections is also admirable.

In the apparel export ranking, China always comes first. It was considered next to impossible for any other country to surpass China in the apparel export sector. But in 2022, Bangladesh has surpassed China in the growth of garment exports to the European Union. Analysts believe that it is possible to grasp the top position from China permanently. But we too are facing multi-faceted challenges. Bangladesh’s gas and electricity prices are increasing, wages may also increase in the future. The garment sector of the country mainly depends on the raw materials of China. There is still a big weakness in backward linkage. If we leave the list of least developed countries (LDCs), we will not get preferential market facilities or GSP for exporting products after 2029. So, we must take the necessary steps now regarding our aspiration to surpass China. It is hoped that through the cooperative attitude of the EU, the UK, and the US and our diplomatic endeavor, Bangladesh will be able to surpass China and secure the top position in apparel exports globally someday.

[Photo by Fahad Faisal, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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