What the papers say

Garment Exports Up

A weekly round up of articles about employment, the labor market, skills training and workforce development. This week’s round up is drawn from The Daily Star. Here is the news for the week ending 10th November 2016.

This week in the Bangladesh English Press…

…Donors adjust support to Bangladesh. Export earnings fail expectations while Government battles for trade privileges. Government to set up manpower authority for economic zones and expand youth training programme. Pay packets are squeezed forBangladeshi workers oversees.  And music makers drop a beat while sesame farming opens for business.

UN continues long-term support to Bangladesh

The United Nations will spend US$ 1.22 billion on development projects in Bangladesh over the next four years.

In the previous five years the UN provided US$ 1.76.

United Nations development programs will focus on education, health, gender equality, the environment and human rights.

The UN Resident Coordinator raised concerns about people in urban slums and those in remote rural communities. They are lagging behind, he said.

Although the UN’s support to Bangladesh has decreased slightly other international organisations are increasing their commitment to Bangladesh.

We recently noted the Asian Development Bank’s higher loan portfolio for Bangladesh.

Trade Agreements and Export Earnings Key

The government started its latest attempt to roll back Bangladesh’s suspension from the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).

We’ve written extensively about the GSP suspension in earlier posts.

The US suspended Bangladesh’s privileged market access following the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013.

The suspension has very little financial effect because only a very small number of exports benefited from this trade deal. And Bangladesh’s main export, garments, was not included.

But the Government may have been concerned about the symbolic nature of this suspension. It may affect other trade deals and be bad for business in general.

So steps were taken to address the 16 conditions required by the US for re-instatement.

Changes were made to allow more freedom of association and union organising. And workers’ safety has been improved.

Exports earnings from garments went up to $2.71 billion in October.

Experts said the rise is due to two factors. First, production is becoming more efficient. And second, Bangladesh is making higher value items.

So last quarter exports grew around 7 per cent compared to the same quarter last year.

This is impressive. But to reach targets growth in garments exports needs to be about 12 per cent.

There were similar levels of growth in other sectors including leather goods, footwear, jute goods, and frozen foods.

Government Focuses on Workforce

The Government is working on legislation so that it can acquire land for economic zones and foreign-owned factories.

Changes to laws will see more compensation for land owners leading to quicker public acquisitions for special economic zones.

A dedicated authority manages Bangladesh’s economic zones.Utilities and other infrastructure are provided in the zones.

And now the government will set up a special authority to manage workforce issues.

The National Service Programme trains educated unemployed young people in poorer areas of the country.

After their training these young people are placed in government offices for two years, During this time they receive 200 Taka per day.

In the programme’s first four phases around 168,000 people were trained.

The next phases of the programme will cover more poor areas including those in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Bangladeshi Expat Workers Challenged

More Bangladeshis are working abroad than ever. But remittances have fallen for three straight months.

Nearly three quarters these workers are in the Gulf states.

Economists believe falling oil prices have led to lower wages and increased expenses for migrant workers in the Gulf. So they have less savings to send home.

Malaysian employers are not treating skilled workers from Bangladesh fairly. Or so it seems.

Malaysia distinguishes very clearly between skilled “expatriates” and other migrant workers. And there are different rules for expats and other migrants.

Recruitment of Bangladeshi workers for Malaysia has been effectively suspended for several years.

Is this is a case of professionals being underpaid. Or are recruitment agencies using the expat window to send unskilled workers to Malaysia.

Music Plays On?

A community in Manikganj makes traditional musical instruments from local wood and goatskin. 

But the demand for these carefully crafted pieces is falling. And the costs of raw materials is going up.

So some families have left the craft. Hundreds of families used to make different drums, wind and stringed instruments. But now there are only 35.

Margins are down and instrument makers struggle with cash flow. But the government wants to help these artisans by providing loans to continue their craft.

We’ve now highlighted a number of traditional craftspeople struggling to make a living.

Upland Crop Gains Ground

Sesame seed is a profitable crop for higher terrains.

Farmers can grow 5 maunds of seed on one bigha (about one third of an acres). And each maund (about 37 kilogrammes) is sold for about 6,000 Taka.

Demand is high, the market robust, and often buyers secure the farmer’s crop in advance.

In upland Lalmonirhat 320 acres have been turned to sesame this year. Last year it was just 250 acres.

And that’s the news from The Daily Star this week.