Bangladesh's apparel exports to China and Japan -- world's second-and third-largest economies -- fell significantly this fiscal so far as businesses failed to reap benefit of duty-free market access.
Experts and exporters cited a number of bottlenecks that caused the fall in the first quarter of the current fiscal year compared to that of the corresponding period of last fiscal.
The country received US$74.30 million from apparel exports to China in a 10.15 per cent negative growth during the period over that of corresponding period of FY2016-17, according to data available with the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).
Growth in export earnings from Japan also declined, by 9.81 per cent to $170.83 million, during the July-September period of the current fiscal from $189 million fetched in the corresponding period of last fiscal.
Exporters and experts found absence of proper networking from the industry level to increase the bilateral trade with China and Japan, resulting in the setback.
Former president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) Fazlul Haque held the private entrepreneurs responsible for the poor performance on the vast Chinese market.
"Majority of our exports to China go through retailers like H&M and others who source for many countries where they have retail shops. And we are yet to establish a direct and good network with the Chinese buyers and retailers," he said.
On the other hand, Vietnamese exporters get advantage due to their proximity with China and also because they make diversified products using manmade fibres, he explained.
Mohammed Nasir, vice-president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said sluggish global demand for apparel items and strong local currency against the US dollar cast negative impact on overall export performance.
Regarding the fall in Japan, he said Japanese buyers are very 'choosy' and cautious about quality as they inspect each product.
Overall apparel exports in September 2017 fell by 11 per cent, Mr Nasir said, listing some of the bottlenecks that affected the external trade.
"We are losing our competitiveness due to, among others, our increasing cost of production, inefficient functioning of seaports and Dhaka airport and shortage of energy," he said.
On the other hand, apparel exports to major traditional markets witnessed a mixed growth, data showed.
Bangladesh earned $1.30 billion from garment exports to the US, recording a 3.41 per cent growth, and the same stood at $250.19 million on the Canadian market with 10.79 per cent growth during the period.
Germany, the single-largest EU destination for Bangladesh apparel items, imported from the country garments worth $1.29 billion in July-September period, marking a meagre growth of 0.85 per cent over the corresponding figure in 2016-17.
The country's earnings from France recorded a slow growth of 4.85 per cent to $374.11 million.
However, garment shipments to some big European markets like the UK, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands posted healthy growth by 23.28 per cent, 22.23 per cent, 12.24 per cent and 28.90 per cent respectively.
The country received $962.27 million from the UK, $565.23 million from Spain, $317.39 million from Italy and $224.09 million from the Dutch markets respectively, according to official data.
Shipments to Denmark stood at $168.95 million, marking a 5.62 per cent negative growth, during the first quarter over that of corresponding period of FY 2016-17.
Experts at a roundtable last week stressed predictable and long- term government policy supports, including energy rate, tax measures, and cash incentives, for exploring new markets for expansion of the export trade.
They also suggested product diversification and enhancing productivity for value addition to enhance the trade in terms of both volume and value.
The country's export earnings stood at $28.14 billion last fiscal, marking a nondescript 0.20 per cent growth--the lowest in last 15 years.