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Bangladesh is a large contributor to the global textile industry, with the RMG (ready-made garment) sector accounting for 84 percent of Bangladesh’s exports. This comes on the back of the sector’s rapid growth and modernisation over the past decade — as well as the strides it has made in improving conditions for the country’s approximately four million garment workers. Bangladesh has surprised the market by consistently showing profits.

1257.6 miles away, Pakistan’s industrial sector is fighting to live another day. Pakistan’s export during Apr-Jun, 2022 amounted to $ 8,432.09 million showing an increase of 2.52% over Jan-Mar, 2022, and by 27.43% over Apr-Jun, 2021. The textile export data for the last five years shows that volumetric textile exports are the primary driver with a double-digit increase in value-added items. Exports during July-Jun, 2022 stood at $ 31,782.09 million.

Pakistan while showing potential for increased export till June-July 2022, later took a nosedive for the worse. The country’s exports of merchandise entered a negative growth in July. The export proceeds fell 5.17 percent to $2.21 billion in the first month of the current fiscal year from $2.34 billion in the corresponding month of last year, according to data from Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. On a month-on-month basis, the export proceeds tumbled by 23.95 percent indicating a downward trend in the export sector and just as the increase before the current drop in exports is entirely volumetric.

The textile sector last year exported goods worth $19.3 billion and has further expanded capacity through an investment of $5 billion to increase exports to $25 billion. The expectation and goal were to increase textile exports to at least $24 billion this year; however, this could not materialize. Pakistan’s exports have started declining and will clock in at below $1 billion per month for the rest of the year.

The textile and clothing industry has grown to be the single largest manufacturing sector of Pakistan, employing almost over 38.5 percent of the manufacturing labor force. The textile and clothing industry is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy; however, the sector is confronted with numerous challenges. Worsening international economic situation primarily caused by the Ukraine crisis combined with floods in Pakistan has negatively impacted the already inefficient supply chains of the country. Flooding in dozens of districts of Pakistan has destroyed a wide swath of agricultural land. While the industry requires 14 million bales, the country could only produce 5 million bales of cotton domestically. To meet this gap cotton needs to be imported; however, the forex issues in the economy have curtailed imports of cotton and other essential inputs for exports. The issue of raw material clearance from the ports remains unresolved owing to unavailability of forex and therefore mills are currently unable to obtain cash against documentation and are closing down owing to the shortage of raw materials.

The cost of importing cotton has also increased by 20% due to demurrage/detention and delays while the importers face the loss and failure to book orders due to uncertain and delayed turnaround time for export orders. Manufacturers continuously find their hands tied due to liquidity constraints owing to 60 % devaluation of currency with no corresponding increase in working capital facilities. Funds bound as a consequence of 17% sales tax and devaluation on all inputs. Lags in the system committed to pay refunds and accumulation of “Deferred Sales Tax”, which has not been refunded for the last three years, have completely restricted the cash flows for new projects and expansions. As a result, the export-oriented units are under immense pressure as they cannot generate funds to service debt. This may lead to massive defaults, further curtailment of capacity and in all likelihood a banking crisis.

New connections for RLNG/gas are not being extended. The competitive tariffs, therefore, are effectively rendering the new projects /expansion uncompetitive. Electric supply to mills is erratic and substandard, including maintenance shutdowns of 5-6 days/month reducing effective capacity by 25% of the mills running on electricity. Over the past two years the textile sector has invested $5 billion in setting up new factories, some of these are now complete and others are in process. However, some of the machinery of new plants/expansions is still stuck at ports, L/Cs for spare parts are delayed. Moreover, electricity and gas are not being provided to these new units. It increasing appears that the current situation is likely to lead to massive banking defaults, complete loss of investor confidence in future for any investment in Pakistan and many other negative consequences.

However, all is not lost. Clearing all imports of export-oriented sectors which have arrived at ports whether against L/Cs or cash against documents can be the first step towards recovery. Prioritising or exempting export-oriented sectors from import controls allowing L/C for raw material, machinery, spare parts and other items to restore industry supply line would be a big help for the sector. In addition, refunding all demurrage and detention charges incurred by export-oriented units is a must. Maintaining a 24-hour help desk to monitor and resolve exporters’ issues is also the need of the hour. Restoring SRO 1125, (zero-rating for the textile value chain) while collecting sales tax on domestic sales at point of sale. Immediate refund of all deferred sales tax, tuff and other dues and Extension in submission date of duty drawback claims for FY21 are all steps in the right direction. A new export sector working capital lending facility may be established catering to export-oriented units at subsidised rates to tide over the current crises and LTFF (Long Term Financing Facility) be provided where L/Cs already opened and loans approved by banks.

Being an energy insecure country and keeping up with ever-rising demand Pakistan’s only solution to energy crises is efficient allocation of scarce resources we have. It is necessary to accord first priority to export industry on gas/RLNG and electricity supply and allow competitive tariffs to all new projects and expansions as well as industrial estates. A task force with industry representatives may be constituted with the purpose of improving supply of grid electricity and all Discos should schedule maintenance shutdowns after consultation with the impacted industry.

Pakistan also needs to diversify and upgrade its product offerings. However, the most important lesson that we can learn from Bangladesh is to learn from experiences and mistakes and make policies and mitigating strategies to overcome the challenges and flaws of the system.

For instance, Bangladesh’s largest challenges were disasters, deaths, and safety issues in the textile industry. Tragedies have received worldwide coverage; notably the Dhaka fire and collapse of Rana Plaza (2013). Bangladesh learned from its mistakes and started taking responsibility for its workers and the reforms which were once promised came into actual practice. Today, Bangladesh’s RMG sector is a frontrunner in transparency concerning factory safety and value-chain responsibility, thanks to initiatives launched in the aftermath of disasters (including the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, and the RMG Sustainability Council). These measures led to the closure of hundreds of unsafe, bottom-tier plants and the scaling up of remediation activities in many others.

We need to develop an action plan not only to solve our immediate problems but also to ensure long-term solutions to such problems. Policies should be in place like a “24-hour helpline” for manufacturers who are importers and require immediate assistance in case of any supply chain disruption. Towards this end the government is setting up a national commission center which will work in a dedicated manner to address sustainability and compliance issues. We need solutions but not just temporary ones, we need solutions that are sustainable and beneficial for us in long run. With the right policy tools and support from the government, the textile sector will be once again on the right track as the sector has proved its worth time and time again.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Asif Inam

The writer is Chairman of All Pakistan Textile Mills Association

Comments

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bonce richard Feb 01, 2023 05:42pm
In 1971 when our Punjabi people did not like Bengali and separated from us. The result before you they are thousands of times better than us. You see the export of textile better than us although we are cotton producing county. Their currency is very strong and economics-wise better than ours. The reason they not spending money on defense is just like us.
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TimeToMovveOn Feb 01, 2023 05:57pm
Bangladesh made peace with India, solved all the border disputes, is engaged in joint collaboration, trade, and infrastructure. They did not have any preconditions for talks with India. They have their head in the right place. Pakistan meanwhile ..., well just see the economy, you know the answer.
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