Bangladesh’s merchandise export earnings have crossed the milestone of $50 billion

That Bangladesh’s merchandise export earnings have crossed the milestone of $50 billion for the second consecutive year is a notable achievement indeed. In FY2022-23, exports fetched a record $55.6 billion, which could provide the economy with some much-needed breathing space. Amid challenging conditions at both home and abroad, it is one of the few bright spots for our economy.

The receipts amount to an increase of 6.67 percent from a year earlier, thanks in part to a strong showing in June which saw $5.03 billion come into the country, according to the Export Promotion Bureau. Even though the total amount fell short of the $58 billion export target set for the fiscal year, it is a good sign at a time when international markets are going through extreme turbulence. As Bangladesh’s major export destinations are grappling with a slowdown and high inflation, the increase managed to surpass many economists’ expectations. Moreover, during this time, exporters had to deal with a number of production-related challenges, including low gas pressure and frequent load shedding.

The lion’s share of the export burden was carried, predictably, by the garments sector which, despite the slowdown in Western markets, managed to diversify some of its products to other emerging markets. Since garments sectors of other countries struggled during the same period, this also shows the resilience of our own garments sector – although, admittedly, the depreciation of the taka against the dollar did play a big part in making ours more competitive.

Despite this additional advantage, however, other sectors failed to increase their export amounts. For example, important sectors like leather, jute, home textiles, and agricultural products registered negative growths in FY23. A major reason why leather products did badly was the issue of non-compliance at the Savar tannery estate. Despite spending more than Tk 500 crore and waiting for nearly a decade, Bangladesh is yet to reap the full benefit of the central effluent treatment plant (CETP) at the estate. Without a fully functional CETP, Bangladeshi companies will not be able to obtain the Leather Working Group certification, which is essential to attract international retailers and brands.

It is unacceptable that such hindrances should continue to slow down promising sectors of our economy. The government should identify what issues export sectors other than garments are facing, and address them promptly so that Bangladesh’s exports can continue to grow.

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