By IMTIAZ AHMED
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Although two-way combined trade between Mexico and Bangladesh currently amounts to less than $340 million a year, that country’s ambassador to Mexico said last week that the South Asian nation could be exporting as much as $500 million a year in readymade garments to the Latin American nation by the end of 2024.
As Bangladesh’s bustling fast-fashion industry, which already exports more than $35 billion a year in apparel goods globally, second only to China, continues to grow by leaps and bounds, Bangladeshi Ambassador to Mexico Abida Islam said that her country is now looking at expanding its sales throughout Latin America, particularly Mexico, where she said said that garment exports could reach more than $1 billion by 2030.
“The competitiveness and strength of our textile and clothing industries have increased over the last 40 years since the journey began in the late 1970s,” added Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) vice Shahidullah Azim.
“Mexico is an important economy within the Latin America marketplace. Our exporters have the capacity to tap into that market.”
But Azim, who is also the managing director of Classic Fashion Concept Ltd, a leading prêt-à-porter garment exporter, said Bangladesh should now start talks on signing a free trade agreement with major importing countries in order to maintain its present export growth.
Currently, there is no such accord between the two countries, although Mexico is a member of the 1971 Protocol Relating to Trade Negotiations among Developing Countries (PTN), which offers preferential trade arrangements to a number of countries, including Bangladesh.
After its graduation from the Least Developed Countries (LDC) rosters in 2026, Bangladesh will likely experience high tariffs in many major importing countries, which could cut into its competitiveness and export levels, Azim said.
A free trade agreement with Mexico would shelter Bangladeshi goods from the potential fallout in the Latin American market.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s export receipts registered a 33.41 percent year-on-year growth to $38.6 billion in the first nine months of the current 2021-22 fiscal year, according to the country’s Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).
According to the EPB data, the textile and clothing sector registered a year-on-year growth of 33.81 percent, to $31.42 billion. And in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, the sector brought in $23.49 billion in revenues.
Azim also mentioned that in terms of demographics, Bangladesh and Mexico constitute 3.8 percent of the global population.
Back in Mexico, Ambassador Islam agreed that Bangladesh “should diversify its export basket to penetrate into Mexican markets with products like jute and jute goods, leather goods, pharmaceuticals and high-end readymade garments.”
Of the current combined trade between the two countries, she said that Mexican exports make up the lion’s share, more than $290 million, leaving plenty of room for expansion in terms of Bangladeshi exports to Mexico.
“Mexico is among the 15 largest economies in the world, and the second-largest economy in Latin America,” she noted, adding that Mexico is swiftly becoming a modernized nation with more industrial and service sectors to maintain and promote economic growth nationwide.
“Considering the size of the population and the buying capacity of the people, Bangladesh has a high prospect of increasing its trade relations with the Latin American market,” she said.
In 2019, Mexican exports of goods and services grew by 1.1 percent, to $490.7 billion, while imports decreased by 1.1 percent, to $503.4 billion, bringing the national trade balance to a surplus of $5.4 billion.
But despite the July 2020 implementation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), Mexico, like many other industrialized countries worldwide, experienced an economic downturn last year, due primarily to the covid-19 pandemic and resulting supply-chain shortages.
Notwithstanding, the economy of Mexico has started picking up after massive vaccinations of large swathes of the population and a relative containment of the covid-19 pandemic, Islam said.
Consequently, if it plays its card right, Bangladesh could increase its exports to Mexico by as much as $1 billion over the next five years by diversifying the export basket, said Azim.
Meanwhile, Jannatul Ferdous Nipa, vice-president of Indian Importers Chamber of Commerce and Industry and also director of the Bangladesh Garments Executive Association, said that Mexico’s own textile and clothing sector is currently one of the country’s most powerful, with annual exports of $7 billion.
But due to growth in its automotive, aerospace and medical services sectors, demand for technical textiles, industrial fabrics and specialty apparel has increased significantly.
Currently, Bangladesh mainly exports cotton, textiles and shoes to Mexico, while Mexican exports to Bangladesh consist mostly of motors for elevators.
Nipa, who is also a foreign exports analyst, said that many Mexican entrepreneurs have expressed an interest in exploring Bangladesh for possible new trade relations.
By the same token, Bangladeshi entrepreneurs are considering participating in several upcoming trade fairs in Mexico, including the Intermoda fashion symposium in Puebla in July.
And Bangladesh is slated to participate in a weeklong exhibition of exportable goods at Mexico’s upscale Liverpool department store during the second half of this year.
The first official meeting titled Mexico-Bangladesh Business Opportunities Association between the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce & Industries (FBCCI) and the Mexican Business Council for Foreign Trade, Investment and Technology (COMCE) was held virtually earlier this month, followed by the launching of the virtual business platform between the two countries. A total of 28 business representatives from both Bangladesh and Mexico attended the event.
Islam said that she believes the new association could present platforms and opportunities of Mexico and Bangladesh to increase their combined trade volume “by many folds and create a win-win situation for both countries.”