Hong Kong-Bangladesh has a long-standing business relationship. Three decades ago, Bangladeshi Business firms established businesses in Hong Kong. Over the years, the number has increased a lot during the last two decades. Especially the apparel businesses are thriving there. These companies are contributing to a remarkable share of the economic development of Hong Kong. Bangladesh imported $1.45 billion of goods from Hong Kong and exported $230 million of goods to Hong Kong last year. The above figures show that the Bangladeshi business community in Hong Kong is doing quite well and is expanding at a remarkably fast rate.
In order to cope with the rapid expansion, the Bangladeshi community of Hong Kong has established a Chamber by the name of Bangladesh Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong Limited (BMCCHK).
Similarly, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC) has been aiding its members to strengthen their businesses for the past 161 years. HKGCC’s members have the advantage of being a part of Hong Kong’s leading and most dynamic business organization. Bangladeshi businesses can reap benefits among the world’s most dynamic and competitive business and financial hubs.
Dewan Saiful Alam Masud Vice Chairman of the Asia-Africa Committee of Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce – has been guiding the Bangladeshi entrepreneurs in promote, represent and safeguard their interests.
Dewan Saiful Alam Masud, also the President of Bangladesh Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong and Vice Chairman of the Asia-Africa Committee of Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, in a recent interview with Textile Today shed light on the current activities of HKGCC, his own business, challenges and ways out of Bangladesh textile and apparel accessories sector, the business scope of the Bangladeshi community in Hong Kong, etc.
Textile Today: Please share us the current activities of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce?
Dewan Saiful Alam Masud: The mission of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce is to ‘promote, represent and safeguard the interests of the business community in Hong Kong’. In order to carry out such goals, we have esteemed representatives specializing in numerous fields in business and even have members who are on different government advisory boards and thus play a direct role in making government policies. Moreover, all chamber members are involved in electing one legislative councilor.
Within the chamber itself, there are industry and functional committees, as well as special interest groups, in which we explore and debate issues related to business and produce solutions. This chamber also works to broaden and develop connections through enhancing awareness and improving communications through meeting with over 100 overseas and Mainland delegations. This global network is produced by focusing on overseas missions around the world with different targets and focus points. Hence, the committee holds over 500 events annually. This allows members and thus the wider business community to be updated and increase their knowledge of the latest developments and interests. Through this chamber, we are also able to have exclusive visits to both key government and private facilities to delve into the works of other companies and gain inspiration from successful practices which then can be adopted into our own personal businesses.
We also organize various training and internship arrangements for youths regarding different aspects of business and arrange some competitions in order to encourage active participation and engagement regarding key areas and ideas. The chamber also designs events and arranges opportunities in order to tailor to the needs of its members and members can also enjoy significant benefits that increase the ease of doing business such as offering discounts when getting the certification of certain documents.
Textile Today: As a Vice Chairman of the Asia-Africa Committee of Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, what role you will play? And what goal do you want to achieve?
Dewan Saiful Alam Masud: HKGCC committees are designed to cover specific interests. Each committee has its own terms of reference which vary to some extent with the different advisory obligations placed upon them.
As one of the Vice-Chair, I would help the chairman and secretariat of the chamber to outline and plan activities, events, missions overseas, etc. Since there are so many countries in Asia and Africa, we will try to distribute some work among the leadership of the committee and focus on some specific countries. We will prioritize probable countries in which our members are interested in developing their businesses.
I would like to promote Bangladesh as most of my business is in the country I was born. It is also the country in which I have the most expertise and I am currently the President of the Bangladesh Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong.
As we all know, Bangladesh has been fairing very well and the growth has been continuously moving in an upward direction. Many overseas investors have been experiencing the benefit of comparatively cheap labor and thus have an edge over their competitors in other countries. Through the HKGCC, I would like to host more presentations and workshops that allow members to have a deeper understanding of what Bangladesh has to offer and hopefully through the added connections and knowledge, more members of the chamber will be encouraged to explore Bangladesh as an option.
Textile Today: How is the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce contributing to enhancing trade between Bangladesh and other nations?
Dewan Saiful Alam Masud: HKGCC has been arranging investment seminars where the Consul General and Hong Kong Bangladeshi businesspeople have their presentations about Bangladesh business opportunities. I was one of the speakers in the last two seminars held about Bangladesh along with the Consul general. BEZA, BIDA, PPP and government representatives have been visiting the HKGCC committees and giving presentations.
In such presentations, we explore and communicate the advantages of choosing Bangladesh as a potential country to operate businesses in. Such advantages include cheap labor, recent developments in technology, tax incentives, a young and educated workforce, global duty-free market access, a large domestic market, an increasing trend of purchasing power of the local consumers, appealing government policies and regulations for foreign investment, increased export processing zones and more.
Textile Today: Please share with us about your own business DSA International Company? Its journey, challenges, business growth, etc.
Dewan Saiful Alam Masud: I established my company in Hong Kong and Bangladesh in 1999. I joined Opex once I completed my final year in February 1992. After a few months, Opex management transferred me to their Hong Kong office. At that time, only a few Bangladeshi large apparel groups opened their offices in Hong Kong to liaison with buying houses, purchasing machinery and sourcing raw materials. Almost every single item was imported via Hong Kong. After working for Opex Hong Kong for more than six years, I gained knowledge and confidence that I wanted to take a risk and start my own business. At that time non-Bangladeshi companies were supplying fabrics and accessories to Bangladeshi apparel manufacturers. Hence, I naturally thought that it would be perhaps more beneficial to us, Bangladeshis, if we started to dominate such transactions and instead keep the earnings within us to then circle it back by remitting or investing in Bangladesh rather than having foreign suppliers to keep the earnings from Bangladesh to themselves.
So, we can send back the earnings or invest in Bangladesh. A number of my compatriots working for Bangladeshi companies in Hong Kong later started their businesses leaving their jobs. Which helped us to grow dozens of Bangladeshi-owned companies and help the Apparel industry with competitive prices and efficient and easy communication. Starting a business in Hong Kong is always easy but the main challenge was financing, budgeting within the highly expensive city of Hong Kong along with obtaining customers in Bangladesh.
However, thankfully I managed to gain and maintain numerous connections with other manufacturers of apparel raw materials from the jobs I was previously doing. Nonetheless, there were still a few significant problems such as whether the suppliers had the confidence in my ability to pay back following them giving me credit. But luckily this problem was not a big obstacle as my acquaintances with suppliers helped me form a strong sense of trust and allowed me to get credit soon after I started. Another challenge was to reach out to customers as I was only working for a specific company which didn’t help me to interact with any other apparel manufacturers in Bangladesh. But I used my connections and reached out to some of the renowned companies that didn’t have offices in Hong Kong. I was lucky enough to start getting orders within weeks and the journey that started is still continuing strong. Later on, through even more connections and building up experiences, we managed to expand businesses in other Asian countries. Besides the apparel supply chain business, we have developed some other businesses like Healthcare-related products and machinery for different industries.
Textile Today: What are the challenges the textile and apparel accessories sector facing to grow more? How can these challenges be overcome?
Dewan Saiful Alam Masud: Due to the pandemic and conflict in Russia and Ukraine, there are supply chain disruptions, and increases in freight and raw material prices. Also, a global recession is looming so a difficult time is likely to be ahead for most industries, including textile and apparel accessories. Borrowers will be facing increased costs to get funding as the interest rate will be increased to tame inflation.
In attempts to overcome such potential challenges, it is crucial to plan wisely and stay aware of global incidents. Increased knowledge and understanding of the global socioeconomic climate will allow entrepreneurs to prepare themselves and adopt appropriate measures to work around risks and consequences. It is also important to continuously analyze both individualistic and unique business patterns aligned with the situation and circumstances around them in order to predict future gains and losses and hence avoid any hindrances.
In terms of the textile sector specifically, we need to give an increased emphasis on man-made fiber-related products. If Bangladesh were to be self-sufficient in production at all stages and were able to develop more industries accordingly, we could be less dependent on imports thus allowing us to reach another level of stability and stay competitive through increased production efficiency. Moreover, we need to do more R&D to diversify the products and expand to sell more products with a higher value. Though in comparison to our past, we have quite a lot of apparel accessories industries, we are not as dominant in selling higher-end goods due to our quality standards and there are still many buyers who import items from China or Hong Kong. We can try to improve our standard and convince buyers to get those accessories made locally instead of importing them. As a result, our fabric and accessories supplier may tap into other apparel manufacturing countries to supply their items instead of only supplying locally.
Textile Today: What is your future investment plan? Which area should get priority while entrepreneurs will think for new investments?
Dewan Saiful Alam Masud: I have been planning to start a manufacturing plant which derailed due to the pandemic. Since the situation has improved quite a bit, I am working on it. There are some factories that are planning to relocate from China which I am in touch with. But the restriction on traveling to China has stalled the progress. Entrepreneurs should think of investing in synthetic textile production, healthcare product manufacturing, biomedical research and perhaps agriculture-related concepts due to the recent attention towards sustainable food and scarcity.
Textile Today: What are the scopes you see for the Bangladesh textile and apparel industry for future growth?
Dewan Saiful Alam Masud: Bangladesh has a huge potential in the textile and apparel industry. Bangladeshi entrepreneurs should not only look into exporting finished goods and focusing on our local consumption but instead should focus on trying to export our raw materials to other countries. By doing so, we will be able to expand our textile and apparel industry and the country as a whole will benefit from increased credit trade. Moreover, due to recent conflicting geopolitical situations in other countries, Bangladesh has now come into the limelight and is focused on as an alternative for textile and apparel production for many other foreign countries. Bangladesh should welcome such business opportunities and stay in tune with matching and keeping up with increased and better production.