In 2020, almost all the apparel supplying countries in the USA suffered greatly amid the COVID-19. After a year-round, except China and Vietnam, all other garment-exporting countries including Bangladesh witnessed a decline during the January-March period in 2021.
Bangladesh’s apparel exports to the US are still grasping for breath. According to data of the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA), affiliated with the US Department of Commerce, during the January-March period in 2021, Bangladesh’s apparel exports to the US sustained a negative growth of over 8%.
The OTEXA data revealed that US fashion brands and retailers imported $17.41 billion in the Jan-March period of 2021. Declining by 2.46 percent, which was $17.84 billion during the corresponding months of 2020.
Beating all odds, China and Vietnam apparel export to the US witnessed a growth of 12.69 percent and 1.40 percent respectively in the January-March period in 2021. While, Bangladesh’s apparel exports to the US sustained a negative growth of over 8.0 percent during the first quarter of 2021 year-on-year, showing a much slower recovery compared to China and Vietnam.
Bangladesh exported US$ 1.53 billion worth of apparel in the Jan-March period of 2021, down from $1.67 billion during the same period of 2020.
During the first 3 months of this year, Bangladesh exported 608.97 million square meters of readymade garment (RMG) goods, up from 603.11 million square meters in the corresponding period last year.
According to the data, Bangladesh made $5.22 billion in 2020, against $5.92 billion in 2019.
RMG exporters, however, related the slow demand in the US followed by the higher COVID-19 infection rates and the change in sales pattern, to the pitiable performance of apparel export to its major destination.
The top apparel exporter China – the largest exporter to the US – witnessed a 12.69 percent progress in RMG export with earnings amounting to $3.68 billion in the first three months of the current calendar year. Whereas, in 1st 3 months of 2020, China shipped $3.27 billion apparel items.
Likewise, Vietnam’s apparel export to the US market grew by 1.40 percent to $3.42 billion during the period, up from $3.38 billion in the Jan-March period of last year.
The US apparel import from Cambodia witnessed a small growth of 0.94 percent to $774.79 million in the said period, according to OTEXA data.
The US apparel import from India fell by 14.43 percent to $976.54 million in the first quarter of 2021.
Victoria Langro and Sheng Lu from the University of Delaware have recently made a detailed analysis of the COVID’s impact on the world’s three largest apparel exporters – China, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
According to the analysis, “Bangladesh’s apparel export seasonality had experienced a more dramatic change in 2020 than in China and Vietnam. A possible reason behind the phenomenon is the export product structure.”
It added, notably, China and Vietnam export a more diverse range of products, whereas apparel exports from Bangladesh concentrate on basic fashion items.
Citing industry sources, the analysis said between February 2020 and February 2021, US apparel imports from China and Vietnam witness a substantial structural transformation – these include more COVID-popular items such as sweaters, smock dresses, and sweatpants, and fewer dresses, shirts, and suits.
Yet, over the same period, the product structure of US apparel imports from Bangladesh hardly changed, and the imports included only a few COVID-popular categories mentioned above.
“In other words, despite order cancellations, garment factories in China and Vietnam seem more likely to receive new sourcing orders than their counterparts in Bangladesh because of advantages in production flexibility and agility,” said the analysis.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) President Faruque Hassan said to a local media that the overall RMG exports hurt a major drop in its major markets last year mainly because of the pandemic that resulted in a fall in demands.
Bangladesh shipped mostly woven items to the US, he said, adding that demands for woven items were also declining as people largely stayed at home.
About China and Vietnam, Hassan said the COVID-19 situation improved in both the countries and their exports to the US were higher.
However, Faruque Hassan expressed hope that exports to the US would see an uptrend from October onwards with the improving US economy after the country’s good coverage of the COVID-19 vaccination.