By Edward Chisanga
This weekend and week have been marked by the visiting Bangladesh Chief of Army Staff, General Aziz Ahmed and the envisaged political and military cooperation ahead. But on Monday 3 June, my birth day, I also read that Zambia’s Ministry of Defense Deputy Permanent Secretary, Wesy Likeli stating that Government will explore other areas of mutual interest in the agriculture and health sectors in which Bangladesh is thriving. In my United Nations work in the last fifteen years, I’m also aware of another sector, perhaps even more important than agriculture in which Bangladesh is so competitive globally that the United States doesn’t grant it duty free market access that it gives African countries under the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA). I would be most interested in cooperating in this area.
It is strongly believed that structural change and industrialization is strongly linked with textiles and clothing. Several rich countries like Germany, UK and others share a history of robust production and exports of products from this sector. Closer to Africa, we have noticed that developing countries like China, Viet Nam, Bangladesh and even Mauritius in Africa are diversifying and adding value to their exports from this sector. Once upon a time, Zambia had taken this trajectory in its pursuit for industrialization. We had Kafue and Mulungushi textiles. If we had continued, one can argue that there would be a high probability that more innovative things would have taken place and skills built even produce more dynamic products for exports. With the presence of China in the country, we still have a chance to rebuild existing infrastructure for textiles and clothing and make them work for Zambians.
Bangladesh is very competitive in global exports from this sector. It is so competitive that it has overtaken the whole continent of Africa in exports of textiles and clothing. In 1995, Africa with $ 9.5 billion exported more than Bangladesh’s $2.6 billion shown in Figure 1 below. In 2019, Bangladesh’s exports reached unprecedented level of $34.5 billion or twofold that of Africa of $18 billion.
To the USA where African countries enjoy free market access in textiles and clothing through AGOA, Bangladesh, without such access is beating Africa by far in exports from this sector. As shown in Figure 2 below, Bangladesh’s exports on annual average are almost twofold the size of Africa’s. For example, in 2019, its exports reached $5.6 billion in comparison with Africa’s $2.2 billion. Every time AGOA is about to expire, since its creation in 2000, African Heads of State always ask for extension in order to continue to benefit from the USA market. It is incomprehensible why Africa continues to ask for free market access without corresponding increase in exports.
Africa’s global competitiveness in this sector has obviously been adversely affected by liberalization of the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing of the World Trade Organization in 2005 when quotas expired. Prior to this, the USA and EU used to give quotas to African countries to export from this sector while other developing countries in Asia, in particular were not benefiting. The coming of competition from Asian countries which are more robust and competitive in production has contributed to weaking the continent’s exports. But more importantly, African countries cannot simply compete globally due to lack of infrastructure, human capital, technology and other factors. But its global competitiveness has meant that Bangladesh has surged forward despite competition from larger countries. There is a lot to learn from Bangladesh in this sector. That is why, I would extent cooperation between Zambia and Bangladesh into this sector, to learn the processes of production, upgrading and expanded exports.