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Feeding RMG exports

Interview - May 12, 2015

United World sits with Bangladesh’s Minister of Jute and Textiles to discuss two of the most strategic industries in Bangladesh.


I'd like to start off by talking about "Vision 2021" and how the whole Government, including your Ministry, is working to alleviate poverty. Maybe you can talk about how your Ministry fits in with that. 

The Textile and Jute Ministry, as well as all the other institutions are working on it. But you know this is placed at a glorious past, a very glorious past. We used to export to 200 countries of the world, even the US and other important countries of the world. I cannot express the glory of jute’s past. Jute was still the golden fiber.  

Now at present, we have a lot of different sectors. Bangladesh is under the strong direction of Sheikh Hasina, our honorable Prime Minister.  Our leader is a very strong one. And we are rising. Now we're very rich and textile centers are being raised with the help of the Government and the private sector.

Bangladesh was very successful in fulfilling the aim of MDGs, Millennium Development Goals. And we brought down our poverty level by 20% and, because of that, Bangladesh was highly-placed as a developing country. And regarding poverty, at this sector, the textile and jute is doing tremendous because the textile is the most labor-intensive sector... 4.4 million are working in garments. 120 million people are involved in the jute sector. So, almost 2 of 4 people, directly or indirectly, are involved in this sector, the jute and textile sector. Then, definitely, because of this, because of the contribution of textile and jute’s sector, the overall poverty is coming down. Our industries have a tremendous effect in diminishing poverty. 

Absolutely. All the figures are tremendous: 50 million people out of poverty since 1992. 

And now Bangladesh is self-sufficient in food as well. Now we even dare to export food. 

And maybe you could tell me your main objectives as the Minister of Jute and Textiles? What are your three main priorities as Minister?

As a Minister I exist, and put all my energy and memory, to develop this sector, this Ministry. Recently, I was sitting with the members of the US’ Chamber of Commerce and I invited them to visit Bangladesh on behalf of Jute and Textile Minister. 

And when you were in New York, what would you say the investment opportunities for the United States in Bangladesh are?

Just trade. This was very important because we consider the US as our strategic partner and America is one of our biggest buyers – as well as for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Recently Bangladesh and the US have signed a Fair Industrial Framework Agreement.

So, the Minister urges the American investors to invest in textile sectors. Because I'm a Chairman of the Bangladesh Textile Mills Corporation, we also want our foreign friends to invest. We have beautiful locations and very attractive places to set up new machineries and new mills. Bangladesh Textile Mills Corporation has 80 mills but our machineries are old so we want the foreign partners to come in and invest and set up a new machinery in those locations. Innovation in this sector is very important.

And what do you find in the United States? How can they help you? In your mill or in another sector. 

In the private sector as well as in the public sector. May I remind you that we also import cotton from the US, so from that point of view we have a bilateral trade. And I would also like to point out that the first textile mill that was set up in 1941 by the Boston Group; the Boston Group belonged to one of the brightest businessman in America and he did business with their sheep, from America to Kolkata's port. Suddenly they stopped this shipping business and they established the first textile mill ever in America. So the connection between America and Bangladesh dates back to that time. 

We've always appreciated having the best possible relations with America. As you said, we're strategic partners and I'm sure that our relation, not only when it comes to textiles, but in all aspects, will and shall improve. 

I think it's certainly reflecting the changes happening on the ground in terms of the improvement in safety and the improvement of workers' rights in the factories. Maybe you can tell me about the steps the Minister has been taking in that respect.   

I'm trying to expand our sector. At present we are under the leadership of Parliament Standing Committee. We're really self-sufficient in the textile sector. There are different designs, different qualities. If one goes to New York, Washington, London, Paris the garments will get made in Bangladesh. So we're very proud of it. 

In parallel, we are actually working on security and safety. That's also very important. The Government has appointed inspectors as well. They and the manufacturers are very serious on promoting safety. We are also very happy that our friends in America and the EU are also concerned and helping us to maintain safety measures. Another important point is how we're training the young generation. We have a number of institutes, vocational institutes, textile colleges; then when have a Textile University. And actually Bangladesh is improving with the textile excuse, so to say. 

I also remind you that that’s why Bangladesh will be the biggest player in the field of garments. Because the village people and even our young generation, they now are managers, manufacturers; all of us, we are very serious over textiles. Now, because of this effort Bangladesh is coming up in textiles. Despite a few odds and challenges still we're developing every year almost 12% to 15% growth. That’s why we dare to export 50 billion in 2021.

Right. Which was going to be my next question: how realistic is this target of 50 billion by 2021? And how are we going to get that?

Actually, I need to show a little background to understand that we're not Cambodia or Vietnam. We have a heritage of textiles. A long heritage, a long tradition on textiles. Now our production is 25 billion. Within the next seven years we will double it. So, yes, we have challenges and we're also preparing ourselves to meet those challenges and to materialize this dream of the 50 billion. I think that with our Ministers and our teams’ leadership, and the textile people, I think it is realistic and Bangladesh will make it. 

I'd like to understand how we're going to keep on growing. Obviously the US is a very important market. Do you think there'll be more room in the US for growth in exports... I guess more foreign direct investment will be coming from them. How do you see them fitting in the future, in the 50 billion?

We are facing our problems. With the help from the almighty, Ala, with the strong attitude of our leaders under our Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina's, leadership, we shall overcome the problems. 

As for the Government's exports is concerned we're also looking for new destinations, like China. They are more interested in the ITs sector. So Bangladesh is going to fill up that gap. Japan is going to be our market. A very good market. With these new destinations our exports are also increasing. So, the 50 billion will not be an impossible target. 

For the private businesses.

Yes, we are doing that. And we're also training our people at our mainly private companies they are bringing new machineries. So, taken together, the production will also improve. But, what our private companies are facing is; they want higher prices. The prices should be higher. Our Prime Minister requested the importers to increase the prices, because if I don't get a good price I can't pay the wages to our labors. And the expenditure is also increasing, is growing. And if I want to make these safety standards then I have also to invest, so money is needed. But we also expect that our American buyers, the European buyers, will give more money.

Unless the price is high, the quality can't be high. 

I think, and this is a major point that we'll be looking into and reflect in our report, that the reality is Europe and the US need to spend more money to get quality garment. Something that I really noticed about this sector is that most of the investors are locals. So that means it is Bangladeshi people who are raising this sector. I would like you, if you can, to define why Bangladesh is a great partner? Why are the people great to work with? The people from here. 

We have the Export Processing Zone (EPZ), where foreign can go and invest tax free. Then we're making some exclusive zones for the Japanese, Koreans, and maybe in the future for the Americans also. So, the Government is trying to attract more investment from our foreign friends. 

Also you asked why Bangladesh should be attractive, well we have our skilled labors, then we're also improving our infrastructure, the production of electricity has been doubled within 5 years (kind of a world record). We are really working on the energy sector. So, take a look at that! This is already a good place for investors. And through you we invite our foreign friends to come to Bangladesh to invest; not only in the textile sector, but in other areas as well. From that point of view, there a lot of incentives for foreigners; and I think is the most interesting or attractive place in South Asia. 

I've read a little bit about your life and to me the way you grew up in the village, and you had family hardship but you struggled and you got an education and now you sit before us as one of the most powerful Ministers in cabinet and indeed a very wise man. So, I'd like to know, from you, what would you like to pass on to the younger generations in Bangladesh?

In the future, we should try to follow the orders and listen to our Prime Minister and we should try to purchase in the villages districts... To build industries. Textiles. Laborers from villages will get work, and build their shelter.  It is our Government's duty and our ethical duty to save our population. It’s our duty to establish, to settle them, to educate them and to employ them. Employment and education is very important for the young generation.