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DHAKA – A study from Bangladesh claims the country’s garment exports could hit US$95bn by 2030 by shifting away from cotton towards manmade fibre (MMF) garments. The figures are based on Bangladesh expanding its share in the global market for MMFs such as polyester and viscose to 12 per cent from less than 5 per cent as present. The findings suggest that, globally, MMF apparel items accounted for US$222bn of the US$440bn global garment market last year. Cotton-based products contributed US$190bn.

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For decades, Bangladesh has built its core strength in cotton-based staple items such as jeans, T-shirts and loungewear. However, the commodity-type nature of such items means mark-ups are small and over-supply keeps prices permanently low. At present, 72 per cent of Bangladesh garment exports are cotton-based and 24 per cent are MMFs, according to the study.

Mohammad Abdur Razzaque, research director of the Policy Research Institute (PRI) and author of the study, presented the outcomes at a programme on ‘Man-made fibres for moving up the apparel value chain in the context of LDC graduation’. The event was organised by the planning ministry at the National Economic Council auditorium in Dhaka.

According to the study, of US$34bn apparel exports from Bangladesh in the last fiscal year, $30bn were cotton-based garment items.

Bangladesh accounts for 16 per cent of all cotton apparel shipments worldwide and the country will soon overtake China as the largest cotton garment exporter.

The study points out that global MMF apparel exports grew 4 per cent while cotton-based items shrunk by 0.5 per cent annually between 2011 and 2019.

Cotton apparel exports then fell by some 15 per cent in 2020 while MMF garment shipments saw growth of 8 per cent in 2021.

The share of MMF apparel exports from China increased from 37 per cent of the country’s total garment shipments in 2010 to 74 per cent in 2021.

Similarly, the share of MMF apparel shipments rose to 57 per cent from 38 per cent in Vietnam, 32 per cent from 15 per cent in India, and 26 per cent from 13 per cent in Cambodia at the same time.

Meanwhile, the share of MMF garments sent from Bangladesh increased to 24 per cent from 18 per cent of the country’s apparel exports during the period, the study said.

The global demand for MMF-based apparel items has been growing because of uncertainty in cotton production and supply, price comparability, and certain advantages offered by such products, namely higher durability, water and wrinkle resistance, and colour retention.

All of this said, the tide seems to have turned against MMFs in recent years – certainly polyester-based fibres A series of campaigns against plastic fashion have drawn the link between polyester fashion and the petroleum industry. If these campaigns begin to hit consumer demand for polyester clothing, it could be that Bangladesh is arriving at the MMF party a few years too late.

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