Bangladesh’s apparel export market is losing its share in the US markets due to price competitiveness and lack of product diversification, according to the US Department of Commerce’s Office of Textiles and Apparel (Otexa) data, Bangladesh’s export earnings from US saw a 4.46 per cent fall to $5.07 bn in 2017, which was $5.30 bn a year ago. Bangladesh’s market share in US apparel market came down to 6.31 per cent from 6.58 per cent.

Vietnam, one of the closest competitors of Bangladesh, registered over 7 per cent growth in the US apparel market, followed by Mexico at 5.33 per cent, India at 1.19 per cent and Pakistan at 1 per cent in the same period. China, the largest exporter of apparel products, also saw a decline in export earnings as well as market share in the US. According to Otexa, China’s export to US saw a 3.17 per cent fall, while market share came down to 33.67 per cent in 2017 from 34.69 per cent in the previous year. The total export from Bangladesh to the US was $5.27 bn in 2017, down by 3.98 per cent from 2016. Of this, only $204 mn was from non-apparel products.

Exporters Association of Bangladesh (EAB) President Abdus Salam Murshedy said that right now, price competitiveness is a big challenge for Bangladesh in the global markets. The production cost has gone up due to safety improvement spending as well as wage hike. The advantage of cheap labour is over. Meanwhile, their competitors have gained competitiveness due to government policy support and incentives.

The fall in Bangladesh’s earnings from apparel exports to the US is bigger than the total drop in US apparel and textile imports, said Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Research Director KhondakerGolamMoazzem. According to Otexa data, US import of apparel products has seen a 0.49 per cent fall to $80.28 bnin 2017, which was $80.68 bn a year ago. American buyers have stopped placing work orders to factories in shared buildings, which is another reason behind the fall. But there is hope in the coming year as Bangladesh has made significant progress in workplace safety, said Moazzem. Since the economic slowdown in the US still impacting the demand of clothing products, the buyers have cut prices of products, he added.

As buyers keep relocating their businesses from China to more competitive countries, Bangladesh needs to focus more on attracting these buyers and on new foreign investment. Product diversification is a must to retain consumers. Also, the government and manufacturers have to concentrate on creating a congenial business and investment atmosphere to do the same.