UPDATE 1-Bangladesh FY exports rise to $24.3 bln, short of target

Bangladesh’s exports rose 5.9 percent to $24.3 billion in the financial year to June, falling short of a government target as demand for garments from key Western markets waned, the country’s trade promotion body said on Tuesday.

The total fell nearly 8.4 percent short of a target of $26.5 billion originally set on hopes for solid garment shipments to Europe and the United States, which account for almost 70 percent of sales.

Readymade garment sales for the fiscal year rose 6.56 percent from a year ago to $19 billion.

“Our growth was still good considering the weakening global economy, which cut demand sharply,” said Shubhashish Bose, head of the Export Promotion Bureau.

For the new fiscal year starting July 1, the government expects exports to reach $28 billion as it seeks to diversify into new markets such as Japan, China, India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa.

Bangladesh’s economy and exports have been boosted recently by a dramatic shift in global garment orders from China to lower-cost Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s low labour costs have helped it join the global supply chain for low-end clothing, manufacturing garments for international brands such as Tesco, JC Penney, Wal-Mart, H&M, Kohl’s, Marks & Spencer and Carrefour.

Garment export is one of economy’s most important drivers, along with remittances – money transferred home – from Bangladeshis working overseas.

Business leaders said Bangladesh needs to shift its focus eastwards to countries such as China, Japan and Malaysia to compensate for slack demand from key western markets.

“We should make strong efforts to increase our exports to those countries to grab a share of huge markets,” said Syed Nurul Islam, president of the Bangladesh-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

To promote Bangladeshi products in Malaysia, Showcase Bangladesh 2012 will be held between July 13 and July 15 in Kuala Lumpur, he said.

Annual exports could reach $30 billion over the next two years if infrastructural bottlenecks including gas and electricity shortages can be resolved, he added.

Other factors such as frequent labour unrest over pay and a volatile political situation could also hurt the impoverished country’s export growth. (Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Catherine Evans)