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Commerce minister Tipu Munshi on Saturday said that the government is trying to revive the country’s trade and commerce, which was affected due to COVID-19 pandemic, through various stimulus packages announced by prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

In the medium-term, he suggested that Bangladesh should look for new markets through product diversification, reports news agency BSS and UNB.

The commerce minister was addressing a virtual dialogue on “Recovery of the Apparels Sectors from the COVID-19 Crisis: Is a Value Chain based Solution Possible?” The dialogue was organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in partnership with Southern Voice, said a CPD press release.

The commerce minister also called for a collective effort from the brands, buyers, manufacturers and the government.

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The speakers at the dialogue called for forging partnership and collaboration between the governments of sourcing and supplying countries, brands, suppliers and workers to ensure better recovery of the apparel sector.

They said the global apparel value chain has experienced an unprecedented disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the earlier crisis, all kinds of activities across the value chain collapsed due to this pandemic, which adversely affected the up-and-down stream including apparel suppliers, workers, raw material suppliers, brands, and consumers.

They observed that addressing medium-term challenges requires innovative strategies and tools to tackle a prolonged period of demand slump. Hence, a collaborative approach between the government, brands and suppliers will be the key to ensure better recovery of the apparel sector.

Labour and employment ministry secretary KM Abdus Salam while speaking as special guest, said the government is taking various social safety programmes like the workers’ welfare fund.

He stated that funds for such programmes are available, but a complete list of labours needs to be provided before distribution.

Salam also said that sudden retrenchment of labours could be stopped through stronger employment policies.

Harry Verweij, Ambassador of the Netherlands, who joined the virtual dialogue as special guest, highlighted how the Netherlands had advised its brands not to cancel orders even during the second wave of the pandemic.

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CPD chairman professor Rehman Sobhan suggested for regional response for assisting the supplier and the supply chain. He also proposed a micro-insurance to ensure the security of the labours.

Such social insurance programmes would also require a collaborative approach from the buyers, manufacturers and the government.

BGMEA president Rubana Huq speaking as guest of honour said that the apparel sector of Bangladesh could take an inward-looking approach. “Bangladesh can focus on local demand, as there is a lack of global demand.”

“We have to have a regional collaboration to overcome our challenges. Many people claimed that many workers have been sacked and laid off but why? Our exports drop around 16.94 per cent in 2020 compared to previous year. Around 4.82 per cent price dropped in September to November in 2020,” Rubana said.

She requested not to be criticised for now as it’s a very challenging time for the industry. They need more financial support to repair the industry.

“Bangladesh can focus on local demand, as there is a lack of global demand. The small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are financially challenged during this pandemic, and the credit programmes are not reaching these firms,” she added.

CPD research director Khondaker Golam Moazzem during his keynote presentation stated that the study found that the lack of initiatives of major market players has kept suppliers and the workers in uncertainty to address the medium-term challenges.

Moazzem also shared that major market players, including brands, buyers and governments of sourcing countries, will have to undertake responsible business practices (RBPs) for sustainable recovery.

To ensure the earliest recovery, framework of a value chain-based distributive approach was proposed in the presentation.

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