POST TIME: 7 August, 2015 10:58:49 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 7 August, 2015 11:01:48 AM
Tofail unhappy with low price of RMG products
Three-day Bangladesh Apparel and Safety Expo-2015 begins
Staff Reporter

Tofail unhappy with low price of RMG products

Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed visits a stall after inaugurating the three-day Bangladesh Apparel and Safety Expo-2015 at Radisson Blu Bay View Hotel in Chittagong yesterday. INDEPENDENT PHOTO

The collapse of Rana Plaza has been a wake-up call for factory owners and readymade garments (RMG) stakeholders across the country. After the tragedy, some necessary initiatives, in compliance with suggestions made by experts in the US and the European Union (EU), have been taken in the country's RMG sector. They initiatives include ensuring workers' safety, building safety and implementation of proper labour laws.
But unfortunately, the price of RMG products has not increased in the market, even though the country has fulfilled all the requirements of the donors. Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed made this observation while speaking at the inaugural ceremony of a three-day Bangladesh Apparel and Safety Expo-2015 at Radisson Blu Bay View Hotel in Chittagong yesterday.
A number of foreign delegates, business leaders and the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) director were also present on the occasion.“We're paying 16 per cent customs duty for exporting our products to the US market, which is the highest among the exporting countries. China pays 2.38 per cent, Vietnam pays 8.3 per cent and India pays less than 2 per cent customs duty to the US,” the commerce minister said.
“We've paid around USD 5 billion in the last five years as customs duty to the US,” he added.
“The number of vulnerable factories is now less than 2 per cent. We're not unhappy with the Accord and Alliance, as factory owners are now more cautious regarding workers' safety. But we're unhappy with the price of our products,” he said.
He also said that the country cannot achieve 20 per cent export prices because of the current devaluation of the Euro as the growth rate is USD 5.7 billion in the US.
Talking about the future business growth in Chittagong, Tofail Ahmed said, "Chittagong is the business hub of the country, and most export and import business are being handled through the port. Although a number of factories in Chittagong have closed down, we plan to make an RMG industry village here, much like the one in Baushia upazilla of Munshiganj."
The minister said China will invest USD 2.3 billion in Munshiganj to build around 5,000 factories in the Munshiganj industrial zone, which will create three to five lakh jobs. He also said the government has primarily selected 17 specialised industrial zones, including Chittagong, with all facilities.
Sajjad Karim, chairman of the (European Parliament) Trade Monitoring Group for South Asia, said the EU and Bangladesh should collectively face the challenges. He expressed hope that Bangladesh will qualify for the GSP plus in the EU market by 2020 if the country can continue to maintain labor safety standards, sustainability compact and women empowerment.
Pierre Mayaudon, ambassador and head of a delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh, said the country would manage to earn USD 50 billion within 2021 if the RMG industry can consolidate technological advancement through research and innovation, get more foreign direct investment, and welcome foreign companies in the local EPZ.
Marcia Stephens Bloom Barnicat, the US ambassador to Bangladesh, said the country's RMG  industry, which happens to be mostly driven by women, has become the engine behind the remarkable economic growth of Bangladesh.
She also said the target of USD 50 billion is ambitious but by no means impossible to achieve.
“To execute the objective, the country needs to focus more on labour safety rights and a proper action plan for RMG factories. More hard work needs to be done to ensure labour rights. People should be more productive. Workers should be encouraged to share their voices. The living conditions of workers should improve and the vein of empowering women should continue. More effort should be given to strengthen the RMG sector and increase production,” she added.
BGMEA president Md Atiqul Islam said continuous supply of gas and uninterrupted electricity, availability of infrastructure, and access to financing at competitive costs are essential pre-requisitions for the sector.
He urged the government to resolve the longstanding gas crisis for the growth of the industry, as the RMG sector now consumes only 5 per cent of the total gas supply of the country.
He said 233 established RMG factories are now waiting for gas connection to start operations.
The BGMEA president also said they have formed a team of 35 fire trainers and  89,980 trained workers from 2,506 factories to create a safe, compliant and eco-friendly industry.
In a written statement, Md Atiqul Islam said some factories have already been certified by international organisations like the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Eighteen green factories have so far been certified by the USGBC, he added.
AJM Nasir Uddin, mayor of Chittagong City Corporation, said, "We should figure out the problems of the sector and come up with a solution. Chittagong is ready to do business."