Clothing diplomacy is gaining momentum | The star of the day
Shrewd, planned and relentless diplomacy will go a long way in helping us retain and expand market access facilities in the post-LDC era.
When we talk about diplomacy, political issues and conflicts usually come to mind. However, economic issues are just as important. Some would even say that they are even more important. Why? Because most bilateral and multilateral cooperation revolves around generating new business, facilitating established business, and strengthening business ties – all essential elements of a nation’s sustenance.
Since Bangladesh’s garment sector is a major export-oriented industry, diplomacy has a significant and direct impact on the livelihood and overall growth of the sector. With increasing global competition, the role of a diplomatic service exclusively dedicated to the RMG industry has never been more urgent than it is today due to Bangladesh’s impending graduation from the country category. developed countries (LDCs) to the grouping of developing countries.
Ironically, Bangladesh’s economic success could become something of an enemy to itself, as it will no longer be the underdog who expects or receives special consideration. The RMG industry, in particular, has grown to become a global leader and requires a new approach to capitalize on the success achieved.
Shrewd, planned and relentless diplomacy will go a long way in helping us retain and expand easy market access in the post-LDC era. Furthermore, economic diplomacy is imperative to explore new markets and new avenues of profitable growth.
With this understanding and vision in mind, the current Board of Directors of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has launched its own brand of economic diplomacy titled “Garment Diplomacy” to raise the challenges ahead.
The goal of garment diplomacy is to harness the power of diplomacy for the betterment of the industry and benefit the millions of Bangladeshis employed in the sector.
In the context of sartorial diplomacy, we work tirelessly with our own professional team as well as through our missions abroad. With the support of our government, the BGMEA is making a concerted effort to make the RMG sector more successful. This will generously increase the profits of the industry and bring greater prosperity to the nation.
In the first phase of the “garment diplomacy” concept, we toured the United States and Canada. In the second phase, we visited three European countries – England, Belgium and Scotland. During these tours, we met with supply chain stakeholders and briefed them on the industry’s tremendous advancements over the past decade and its limitless potential.
We also hammered home the message of what our supply chain partners can do to complement manufacturers’ efforts in safeguarding industry interests.
In the third phase, we visited Belgium, Switzerland and the United States.
One of the most significant aspects of the European tour was the first-ever official meeting of a BGMEA delegation with the Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. During the meeting, we briefed him on the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic on both our public health and economy and explained to him why Bangladesh needed an extension of at least 10 years. for a harmonious and sustainable graduation of LDCs.
We asked the WTO chief to mobilize support for Bangladesh among its member countries and sought his help in trade negotiations and economic diplomacy, especially in the areas of signing Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and regional trade agreements (RTAs).
The intervention of the WTO to ensure due diligence in trade in commercial terms, in collaboration with its signatory members and global forums, has been sought since a number of global brands went bankrupt during the pandemic, creating uncertainty for suppliers regarding payments. Dr Okonjo-Iweala took note of the problems and assured us of the full support of the WTO.
The European tour was an opportunity for us to highlight the achievements and potential of the RMG sector in front of the European Union. During a meeting with Jordi Curell, Director of International Affairs at the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Commission in Brussels, the BGMEA delegation highlighted the progress made by the garment industry, particularly in maintaining labor standards and workers’ welfare.
A team from the European Commission, led by Jordi Curell, visited Bangladesh in March to assess progress on working conditions and the national action plan and roadmap to achieve the benchmarks to obtain GSP Plus and to obtain a smooth reclassification of LDCs. We updated them on the industry’s progress in these areas and affirmed our strong commitment to building momentum.
We urged the EU to maintain its trade advantages for Bangladesh for 10 years after the country’s graduation from LDCs in 2026 and asked EU officials to help Bangladesh achieve GSP Plus.
We caught up with Ewa Synowiec, Director for Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, South East and South Asia, Trade and Sustainable Development and the Green Deal at the European Commission in Brussels. We informed her that while LDC graduation will pose several new challenges for Bangladesh, it will also bring immense opportunities. The EU can play a key role in enabling Bangladesh to exploit these potentials.
In Brussels, the BGMEA delegation met Linda Kromjong, President of Amfori, which represents more than 2,400 retailers, importers, brands and associations from more than 40 countries.
We discussed possible areas of collaboration to enable the RMG industry to pursue greater excellence in social and environmental sustainability. We sought Amfori’s support to promote Bangladesh as a safe and sustainable clothing sourcing destination among its members and to obtain the EU Everything But Arms (EBA) facility.
We met Rensje Teerink, a senior EU official, and asked her to promote Bangladesh in the EU. She has been a good friend to Bangladesh as she has closely observed the development and transformation of the industry into a safe and sustainable industry. We hope that Rensje Teerink will continue his friendly support to promote Bangladesh’s interests in the EU.
The BGMEA delegation also met Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.
During a meeting with Matthijs Crietee, Secretary General of the International Apparel Federation (IAF), we defined the details of the program for the 37th IAF World Fashion Convention to be held in Bangladesh in November 2022.
We had a fruitful meeting with the Director General of the ILO, Guy Ryder, at the ILO headquarters in Geneva. He commended the progress made by Bangladesh in making the workplace safer and improving working conditions in the garment industry.
The BGMEA delegation had an impromptu meeting with Alke Boessiger, Deputy General Secretary of UNI Global Union in Geneva. Both sides expressed their intention to work together to push forward the achievements of the garment industry.
During the US tour in March, the BGMEA team attended the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) Executive Summit in Washington. We briefed them on the paradigm shift in the garment industry in Bangladesh.
The industry is also increasingly focusing on diversifying its products, especially high-end non-cotton items, and building capacity to meet the demands of global brands and buyers. Product diversification is essential to ensure sustained growth in the apparel industry.
I asked global apparel brands to work with suppliers to build their capabilities in the manufacture of high-end apparel, especially non-cotton items and textile textiles.
During the tour, we have tried to ensure that bilateral trade relations between Bangladesh and the United States are not hampered under any circumstances. The BGMEA and AAFA signed a memorandum of understanding on March 10.
In accordance with the MoU, AAFA will support Bangladesh in promoting its commercial interests in the US market, including advocating for the removal of the GSP suspension. Given the current circumstances, having such an agreement with AAFA, which represents over 1,000 famous brands, retailers and manufacturers, is truly inspiring and reassuring.
We hope that our diplomatic efforts will play a proactive role in defending Bangladesh’s interests in the international arena.
The author is the President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.