Reverse the decline in leather exports


A seminar on 5 May pinpointed a grave problem in Bangladesh’s leather industry. According to a joint survey of Asia Foundation and Policy Integration for Development (RAPID), export of leather goods has been declining. The export revenue from this sector was over 1.23 billion dollars in the 2016-17 fiscal. This dropped to around 1.08 billion dollars the following year. Export revenue in the first nine months of the current fiscal stands at only 770 million dollars. This steady decline is undoubtedly a matter of concern. 

This sector has projected a rosy picture with the possibility of further increase in export earnings. Some companies of Bangladesh have attained international standard in the footwear industry and are exporting their products to countries in Europe and America. Shoes made in Bangladesh are now gradually catching the US market. According to the Office of Textile and Apparel (OTEXA) of US department of commerce, Bangladesh exported footwear worth 61.4 million dollars to the US in 2014. The export doubled to 133 million dollars in 2018. A Prothom Alo report published on 27 April stated that footwear export has increased in European Union countries too.
But the scenario becomes bleak once you look at the survey conducted by Asia Foundation and Policy Integration for Development (RAPID). The industry is bound to come to a standstill unless proper measures are taken to stymie the downward trend of export in leather industry. At first, the reasons behind the decline need to be identified. Leather industry stakeholders already know the foremost reason—the way this industry is functioning at this moment.
Safeguarding the environment is to be given foremost importance when it comes to leather industry as flouting proper waste management system is fatal to the environment. Developed countries of EU, US, Japan, who are the main importers of our leather goods, give utmost importance to technical and social compliance associated with given industries. One of the main reasons of decline in export is failing to maintain such compliance. Our leather industry failed to attain certificate of the global leather body Leather Working Group for being non-compliant. Many countries do not import from countries which do not have that certificate.
Improving the condition of Savar Leather Industrial Park is a must to become compliant. The waste management system should be improved. The Central Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) should be made functional in the industrial park. While visiting Bangladesh, an auditor of Leather Working Group has given some suggestions regarding CETP. Industrialist Syed Manzur Elahi at the seminar said that our leather industry should make CETP functional in the first place. We also think it should get the first priority. All steps should be taken to make CETP functional without further delay.

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