Mehdi Ali comes from a respectable background rich in culture, social work and political background. His great grandfather Prof. Muzaffar Ahmed is the legendary politician in Bangladesh and President of Bangladesh National Awami Party- which is well known as NAP (Muzaffar).
Mehdi Ali was born in July 30, 1966. He is a graduate from Dhaka University, presently acting as President of Bangladesh Cotton Association (BCA) and Chairman, Standing Committee relating to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FBCCI).
He has been working endlessly in the development of the cotton sector. He is one of the leading key players for organizing the Global Cotton Summit, which has become now a brand in the cotton industry of the globe.
Bangladesh Cotton Association (BCA) was established in the year 2000 with a strong desire to serve the Cotton Community of the Country. This is the national trade body of Cotton Agents, Cotton Traders, Cotton Growers, Cotton Ginners and Cotton Controllers (Inspection Companies).
BCA is an affiliated member of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) and an affiliated Association of the International Cotton Association (ICA) based in Liverpool, UK.
Recently in a conversation with Textile Today, he opened up some paramount issues including cotton sourcing and the prospect of backward linkage of the textile business.
Textile Today: You are the President of BCA, what are your plans to make BCA’s roles more effective for the textile industry?
Mehdi Ali: The formation of Bangladesh Cotton Association (BCA ) was the biggest challenge with the Agents, Cotton Traders, Cotton Growers, Cotton Ginners and Cotton Controllers (Inspection Companies) because we are not strong enough financially like other stakeholders in the textile and apparel industry.
Organizing Global Cotton Summit in Bangladesh, an office for the association and arranging all the financial support was my achievement to make the association successful.
My plan is to tagging the BCA with other stakeholders in the textile and apparel industry for a comprehensive work to get touched 50 billion appeal export target by 2021.
Textile Today: How is BCA promoting and diversifying cotton business?
Mehdi Ali: Bangladesh is mostly dependent on India for its cotton source due to geographical proximity and shorter lead time.
But this is not sustainable for textile industry rather can be a future threat if any embargo is imposed by the neighbor country. Also Indian cotton is not good in quality, short staple length and not contamination free. So diversifying cotton business is really important to secure cotton source.
In this regard, BCA wants to promote the cotton sourcing from Africa, Brazil or USA. Importing cotton declines from India notably 46% now, previously it was 49% of total cotton import.
Textile Today: What are the challenges of Bangladesh cotton importers? How is BCA contributing to overcome the challenges?
Mehdi Ali: Illegal Cotton import is the biggest challenge for the Bangladesh cotton importers. Some importers are importing cotton illegally by the false declaration of yarn count or quality and getting the privilege of free or low tax and charges.
This illegal cotton import-competing in an unparalleled trade race with the genuine cotton importers.
BCA proposed to establish a lab in the border to test yarn count and quality that matching to the declaration. This will not cost big for the government to set up testing labs.
Textile Today: Dumping of yarn from our neighbor countries making the business impossible for our local spinners. How could we come out of this situation?
Mehdi Ali: Bangladesh border is surrounded by an enormous neighbor like India. So this is not really possible for the government to seal the whole border to stop dumping.
Even, we could not stop illegal cotton import through false declaration, using bonded facilities some traders are selling fabric in the local market but we see no strong initiatives or regular raids from law enforcement agencies.
So BCA urges Bangladesh government to take action to stop illegal cotton import for securing legal business and should impose an anti-dumping law to protect our local spinning industry.
Textile Today: We are saying made in Bangladesh but importing cotton from all over the world like Africa, the US, or Brazil, how you will distinguish cotton quality that stands for Bangladesh identity.
Mehdi Ali: This is true locally produced Bangladeshi cotton cannot meet the total required demand but we have special yarn quality in our locally produced cotton that is unique in the world and can stand for Bangladesh identity.
This unique quality is blended of different world-class cotton such as US cotton mix to African cotton by a percentage to produce new yarn quality.
Some mills can do it appropriately such as Naheed Cotton Mills Ltd. They are maintaining world-class quality as well as keeping the price reasonable. This price benefit directly goes to the apparel manufacturer to offer better garment price in the global competitive market.
Textile Today: Cotton made in Bangladesh, what are its prospects and what we can do to produce more cotton from our land?
Mehdi Ali: Cotton made in Bangladesh is high-quality cotton that can be compared with world-class cotton quality.
Recently some high officials from Primark, an Irish clothing and accessories retailer in a day-long visit came to Bangladesh to see its cotton firm and highly impressed for quality cotton that grows here. They expressed to use cotton made in Bangladesh for their apparel products and wants policy support if they can invest more to produce Bangladeshi cotton.
But Cotton Development Board (CDB) says they have land scarcity which hinders more cotton production.
In this regard once I shared my personal opinion to the Executive Director of CDB, Dr. Md. Farid Uddin, if they can utilize the open space of mango firms at Rajshahi for cotton firming. And I thought it can be a good solution for land crisis to produce cotton.
Fortunately, CDB started a new project at Rajshahi and now cotton production rose in a remarkable scale. Also, Bangladesh hill track area can also be an alternative option for land scarcity. The quality cotton produced in Bangladesh can be used for heavy fabric like the bed sheet.
Textile Today: Do you think that Bangladesh Textile policy is strong enough to boost the backward and forward linkage of the textile industry?
Mehdi Ali: The new Textile Policy-2017 has been approved by the ministry of Jute and Textiles on 13th February, 2017. The mission of the policy is stated as productivity improvement, employment generation and a surge in export and foreign investment to ensure a safe and eco-friendly textile and apparel sector.
But there are many contradictory provisions that make the policy ambiguous and not textile friendly. For example, it is not clearly mentioned that cotton is under which ministry, it will be considered for the business ministry of Jute and Textiles or Ministry of Agriculture?
So we really cannot go for clarification or business support from both of the ministry.
To have a complete textile policy, we should sit with all the stakeholders together – BCA, BGMEA, BKMEA and BTMA – to prepare a proposal for government’s review that will help the ministry to find the genuine picture of the industry and that can help to make a friendly policy for the industry.
But we are still struggling to meet all the stakeholders and work on the policymaking. Hopefully, end of this year or by the beginning of next year we can complete the proposal.
Textile Today: At present Bangladesh, spinning mills are producing around 95% yarn for the knit and 35-40% for the woven sector. So what do you suggest strengthening textile backward linkage?
Mehdi Ali: I will strongly urge the Bangladesh government to announce special incentives and privileges of low or charges free import of cotton for the textile backward linkage because without strengthening the backward linkage 50 billion apparel export target never possible to achieve.
Our primary textile sector has a great contribution in this regards. We see most of the media are talking about RMG sector means forward linkage for its business growth and challenges and backward linkage always kept in behind the door and not in the scene.
So the electronic and paper media should write and give focus for backward linkage and has to bring its prospect and challenges in the spotlight.