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What the papers say

Diversifying

A weekly round up of articles about employment, the labour 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 September 2020.

This Week in the Bangladesh English News…

… Tea growers are cultivating additional crops. Bangladesh might be overly dependent on the garment sector. And financial support is coming from the largest buyer of Bangladesh garments.

Education and Labour Market

Some 5,400 migrant workers in Iraq have come home, and in the coming months another 4,100 are expected to return, reported the Bangladesh embassy in Iraq. The mission said two Iraqi government projects being implemented by foreign contractors are responsible for 7,000 layoffs. An earlier report from Arab News said that during the pandemic 20,000 Bangladeshis have lost their jobs in Iraq.

A total of 111,111 workers have returned to Bangladesh amid the pandemic according to the Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment.

President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Rubana Huq gave an interview with the Daily Star: “This pandemic has also shown us our overdependence on the garment sector and the need for immediate diversification.”

The real wages of employees in most sectors are down compared to their height in 2008-2009, although since a low point in 2014-2015 they have been slowly making gains. The overall effects of the pandemic on wages and purchasing power remains to be seen, as data from recent months is not yet available.

Meanwhile, the cost of essentials like vegetables and rice are reportedly rising, and sometimes volatile. The increased cost could be due to prolonged flooding this year. Although onions are a particular item that have been subject to increasing prices, and this week the government released a statement: “there is no logical reason of price hike and supply crunch of onion.”

Financial Services

Some workers now without work in the garment and leather industries will get 3,000 taka a month for 3 months. The social safety net programme is to be implemented by the government, with funding from the European Union and Germany, and the director-general of the labour department will lead a committee, including representatives from the industries, tasked with receiving and recommending a list of beneficiaries.

Large industries and service sectors have availed stimulus money to offset the effects of the pandemic, but small and medium enterprises have not yet accessed much of the stimulus package for the SME sector. One banker reasoned that, with SMEs, it is difficult to lend at the maximum 9 percent interest rate while maintaining acquisition and maintenance costs.

In July, Bangladesh recorded a record high number of transactions through mobile financial services; the number was 68 percent higher than a year ago. Additionally, the Bangladesh Bank said the total breached Tk 50,000 crore for the first time. “Consumers are getting accustomed to buying products through the contactless transaction,” said the managing director of MFS provider Nagad, Tanvir Ahmed Mishuk.

Business, Investments, Trade and Growth

There was a large drop in garment exports in April. But in June, exports began to recover as orders returned. The garment sectors earning are closely tied with the EU, as the EU takes in 64 percent of the country’s garment shipments. One leading garment exporter, MA Jabbar, managing director of DBL Group, said his factories are currently running at 75 percent capacity.

Bangladesh needs a free trade area with India after it graduates from a least developed country according to BGMEA president Rubana Huq. Otherwise Bangladesh could lose Indian market share due to a 10 percent tariff on apparel shipments implemented after graduation.

Five light engineering industrial parks will be organized throughout Bangladesh to promote the industries ministry’s priority to develop the light engineering industry, also known as the building of small machines and equipment. In addition, a light engineering training institute is to be established. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said light engineering is the “Product of the Year 2020”.

Ten years after a chemical-induced fire killed 126 lives, and one year after a similar incident killed another 80 people, there’s been little change in the safety and status of chemical businesses in Old Dhaka. This week Transparency International Bangladesh published a report on the matter.

The future of the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation, which closed operations on 1st July, will be decided by a committee.  So the research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Khondaker Golam Moazzem, published a list of considerations addressed to the committee and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Farmers and Agriculture

Jute growers are increasing operations as they can currently make a good profit selling jute. According to one jute wholesaler, “there is a huge demand for the cash crop in the private jute mills.”

As such, jute millers asked the government to restrict exports of raw jute with an export duty. Millers say that an increase in domestic prices will increase the cost of jute goods and affect exports. Overall, supply is down as a result of this year’s flooding.

Bangladesh’s agro-processing sector has potential, and the sector needs a governing body according to Salman F. Rahman, an adviser to the prime minister. He highlighted Pepsico’s investments and said areas such as food processing and livestock have seen foreign direct investment. At the same virtual meeting, JoAnne Wagner, deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Dhaka, said USAID has assisted this industry with cold storage facilities.

Hilsa traders are wanting cold storage facilities, as the fish are abundant in local markets, and they want to preserve and export the fish. There are more hilsa on the market this year, which is driving local prices down.

In Moulvibazar, more tea growers are starting to cultivate coffee.

Other News

COVID-19 Update: the total number of cases reached 331,078, and deaths now total 4,593. At its peak, June 29, Bangladesh recorded 4,014 cases, and in the most recent 24 hour period 1,827 cases were confirmed.

In other news:

  • Coronavirus treatment operations at some hospitals have been suspended. The beds will instead be used to treat general patients.
  • A study found that the virus’ genome is mutating faster in Bangladesh than the global average, 12.6 percent compared to 7.23 percent. Mutations can weaken a virus, or make it more aggressive.
  • Biman flights between Dhaka and Doha resumed, allowing Bangladeshi expatriate workers the option to return to Qatar.
  • Malaysia banned Bangladesh citizens from entering, as part of a broad ban on citizens from countries with more than 150,000 cases of COVID-19.
  • Considering prescribing behavior, like mask wearing, through the influence of “social marketing” wrote two professors form the Department of Marketing at the University of Dhaka.

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