Leading international buyers have said that Bangladesh is their first choice for sourcing apparel products in the wake of China's shift from basic garments to other industries.
"Bangladesh is our first choice…the country has a long history of producing readymade garments," said Richard Vuylsteke, leader of the delegation of international buyers that include more than two dozen global brands and retailers.
"Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar are the other alternatives," he said after a meeting with Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) at its office yesterday.
These international buyers imported readymade garments worth $5.6 billion from Bangladesh in 2011-12, more than one-fourth the country's total garment exports worth $19 billion in the fiscal year.
Vuylsteke, also president of American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said they are in Dhaka to diversify sourcing, particularly after China's shift to heavy industries from apparel manufacturing.
The buyers include Walmart, VFC, Tradecard, Target, PVH, Li & Fung Group, Kiabi, H&M, Esprit, Carter's, C&A Mondial, Amer Sports and Avery Dennison.
These Hong Kong-based buyers believe that Bangladesh has a huge potential to grow with its garment industries but it has limitations in terms of infrastructure, management and productivity skill, and safety issues in factories.
The delegation arrived in Dhaka yesterday on a four-day visit. They will talk to entrepreneurs and government officials about Bangladesh's prospects to become a RMG giant and the challenges ahead.
"They [buyers] are here to see our capacity," BGMEA President Shafiul Islam told journalists after the meeting with the buyers.
Global buyers are coming to Bangladesh to look for alternatives to Chinese clothing manufacturers, he said.
"It is a crucial time for us. If we can give them [buyers] the assurance that the government is working to develop the infrastructure, we can surely become an alternative to China for them," he said.
BGMEA said it has the capacity to handle more work orders. But energy and infrastructure constraints are its biggest challenge.
Shafiul said exporters are unhappy about the government's slow implementation of much-needed infrastructure projects.
He referred to the project to expand the Dhaka-Chittagong highway, slow progress in implementation of Pangaon river port and inland container depot.
"We don't know when the project to expand the Dhaka-Chittagong highway will be completed. We have to act fast on these issues," said the BGMEA president.
The exporters also talked to the buyers about wages of workers.
"We have urged them to look into the wage issue, and sought their help for developing two housing projects for garment workers," said Shafiul.
The exporters said shortage of skilled manpower still remains a big problem for the industry.
"The apparel industry as a whole faces shortage of 20 percent skilled manpower," said BGMEA Vice President Faruque Hassan.
Siddiqur Rahman, another vice president, also spoke on the occasion.