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Apparel diplomacy gains momentum

When we speak of diplomacy, political issues and conflicts usually come to mind. Economic issues, however, are equally important. Some would even argue that they are even of greater importance. Why? Because most of the bilateral and multilateral cooperation revolves around generating new business, facilitating established business and enhancing trade ties — all key essential elements for the sustenance of a nation.

Since the readymade garment sector of Bangladesh is a significant export-oriented industry, diplomacy has an important and direct bearing on the sector’s sustenance and overall growth. With competition growing worldwide, the role of a diplomatic service exclusively for the RMG industry has never been more urgent than it is today because of the imminent graduation of Bangladesh from the least-developed country (LDC) category to the grouping of the developing countries.

Apparel-diplomacy-Faruque-Hassan-bgmea
Author: Faruque Hassan, President, BGMEA.

Ironically, the economic success of Bangladesh could become an enemy of sorts to itself because it will no longer be the underdog expecting or receiving special considerations. The RMG industry, in particular, has grown to become a world leader and requires a fresh approach to building on the success achieved.

Astute, planned and relentless diplomacy will go a long way in helping us retain and extend market access facilities in the post-LDC era. Besides, economic diplomacy is imperative for exploring new markets and new avenues for profitable growth.

With this understanding and vision in mind, the present board of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has launched its own brand of economic diplomacy entitled ‘apparel diplomacy’ to meet the challenges ahead.

The aim of apparel diplomacy is to leverage the power of diplomacy for the betterment of the industry and benefit the millions of Bangladeshis employed in the sector.

As part of the apparel diplomacy, we are striving tirelessly with our own professional team as well as through our missions abroad. With the support of our government, the BGMEA is making concerted efforts so that the RMG sector can achieve greater success. This will increase the industry’s profits handsomely and bring greater prosperity to the nation.

In the first phase of the ‘apparel diplomacy’ concept, we toured the US and Canada. In the second phase, we toured three European countries – England, Belgium and Scotland. During these tours, we held meetings with stakeholders in the supply chain and apprised them of the sector’s tremendous progress over the last decade and its limitless potential.

We also hammered home the message of what our partners in the supply chain can do to supplement the efforts of the manufacturers in safeguarding the interest of the sector.

In the third phase, we visited Belgium, Switzerland and the US.

One of the most significant aspects of the European tour was the first-ever official meeting by any delegation from the BGMEA with the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. During the meeting, we informed him of the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating impacts both on our public health and the economy and explained to him why Bangladesh needs at least a 10-year extension for smooth and sustainable LDC graduation.

We requested the WTO chief to drum up support for Bangladesh among its member countries and sought its assistance in trade negotiations and economic diplomacy, especially in the areas of the signing of the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs).

WTO’s intervention to ensure due diligence in trade-in commercial terms, in collaboration with its signatory members and global forums, has been sought since a number of global brands went broke during the pandemic, creating uncertainty for suppliers over payments. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala took note of the issues and assured us of all-out support from the WTO.

The European tour turned out to be an opportunity for us to highlight the RMG sector’s achievements and potential before the European Union. During a meeting with Jordi Curell, director for international affairs at the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion at the European Commission in Brussels, the BGMEA delegation shed light on the progress made by the garment industry, particularly in maintaining labor standards and workers’ welfare.

A team from the European Commission, led by Jordi Curell, visited Bangladesh in March to assess the progress on labor conditions and the national action plan and roadmap to achieve the parameters towards obtaining GSP Plus and have a smooth LDC graduation. We informed them of the sector’s progress in these areas and asserted our firm commitment to keep the momentum going forward.

We urged the EU to continue its trade benefits for Bangladesh for 10 years after the country’s graduation from LDCs in 2026 and requested the EU officials to support Bangladesh in attaining GSP Plus.

We met with Ewa Synowiec, director for Africa, Caribbean and Pacific, South East and South Asia, Trade and Sustainable Development and Green Deal of the European Commission in Brussels. We informed her that while LDC graduation will pose several new challenges for Bangladesh, it would also bring immense opportunities. The EU can play a key role in enabling Bangladesh to tap those potentials.

In Brussels, the BGMEA delegation met with Linda Kromjong, president of Amfori, which represents more than 2,400 retailers, importers, brands and associations from over 40 countries.

We discussed possible areas of collaboration to enable the RMG industry to pursue greater excellence in social and environmental sustainability. We solicited Amfori’s support in promoting Bangladesh as a safe and sustainable apparel-sourcing destination among its members and securing the “Everything but Arms (EBA)” facility from the EU.

We met Rensje Teerink, a senior official of the EU, and requested her to promote Bangladesh within the EU. She has been a good friend of Bangladesh as she closely observed the development and transformation of the industry into a safe and sustainable one. We hope Rensje Teerink would continue her friendly support to promote the interests of Bangladesh in the EU.

The delegation of the BGMEA met with Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, as well.

During a meeting with Matthijs Crietee, secretary-general of the International Apparel Federation (IAF), we chalked out the program details for the 37th IAF World Fashion Convention to be held in Bangladesh in November 2022.

We had a fruitful meeting with ILO Director-General Guy Ryder at the ILO headquarters in Geneva. He praised the progress made by Bangladesh in making the workplace safer and improving working conditions in the apparel industry.

The BGMEA delegation had an impromptu meeting with Alke Boessiger, deputy general secretary of the UNI Global Union in Geneva. Both sides expressed their intent to work together to carry forward the achievements made by the garment industry.

During the US tour in March, the BGMEA team joined the Executive Summit of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) in Washington. We apprised them of the paradigm shift in Bangladesh’s garment industry.

The industry is also increasingly focusing on diversifying its products, especially high-end non-cotton items and building capacities to cater to the demands of global brands and buyers. Diversification of products is a key to ensuring sustained growth of the apparel industry.

I called upon global apparel brands to collaborate with suppliers to build their capacities in the manufacturing of high-end apparel, especially non-cotton items and textile textiles.

During the tour, we tried to ensure that bilateral trade ties between Bangladesh and the US don’t get hampered under any circumstances. The BGMEA and the AAFA signed a memorandum of understanding on March 10.

As per the MoU, the AAFA will support Bangladesh in promoting its trade interests in the US market, especially advocating for the withdrawal of the GSP suspension. Given the current circumstances, having such a deal with the AAFA, which represents more than 1,000 famous brands, retailers and manufacturers, is really inspiring and reassuring.

We hope our diplomatic efforts will play a proactive role in upholding the interests of Bangladesh in the international arena.

The author is president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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