Experts believe the decline in earnings gives an impression that Bangladesh lacks competitiveness because it has failed to diversify its export products
Bangladesh's overall export earnings in the first half of the current fiscal year has declined by around six percent to $19.32 billion compared to that in the same period last fiscal year.
During July-December in 2018-19 fiscal, the export earnings were $20.5 billion, according to Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) data released on Sunday.
However, the country performed slightly better in exports in December last after experiencing consistent fall in earnings for four consecutive months since August last year.
In December, the export earnings increased by nearly $100 million to $3.52 billion.
The EPB data drew a dismal picture of the ready-made garments, the largest export earner of the country with a share of over 83 percent.
The sector's export earnings dropped by more than six percent during these six months. In July-December last, earnings from the apparel sector were about $16 billion, a decline of about $1 billion compared to that during the same period in 2018-19 fiscal year.
All other sectors, including leather and leather goods, agricultural products, jute and jute goods, and engineering products, registered a decrease in export earnings ranging from around 1.5 percent to more than 20 percent.
The overall export performance of the country is very weak, and exporters have been struggling to survive, said Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of Policy Research Institute, a local think tank.
"Even though the export scenario improved a little in December, that too was not acceptable because the overall growth is negative," he further said.
The country needs to maintain a double-digit growth in export earnings, he said, adding "But we are far away from the expected level of performance."
Not only the apparel, but all sectors have undergone a negative growth as well, giving an impression that the country lacks competitiveness in a bigger scale, he argued. "This is because we have failed to diversify our export products."
The government should provide exporters with necessary policy support and incentives to overcome the situation, he suggested.
Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said December is a month when exports usually soar.
Yet, the growth in December last was nominal compared to that in 2017-18 and 2018-19 fiscal years, she added.
"We are losing competitiveness and will not be able to sustain the general expectation of riding on high tides of exports unless we receive policy support from the government," she said.
Rubana strongly underscored the necessity for devaluation of taka against US dollar to increase export.
Asif Ibrahim, vice chairman of the Newage Group, said an increase in export earnings in only one month does not signify that the sector is turning around.
"December and January are peak times for export. Even then, we have not had any significant gain this year," said Asif who is also a BGMEA director.
Meanwhile, Mohammad Hatem, managing director of MB Knit Fashion Ltd, expressed his apprehension that the export earnings might drop further in the coming days.
"We see no sign of improvement in export earnings in the future," he said.
"On November 5 last year, we talked to the Bangladesh Bank and the National Board of Revenue to devalue our local currency in order to gain competitiveness in the international market. But the government is yet to take any effective measures in this regard," he explained.
Many recent moves of the government, including that for increasing electricity prices, will add to exporters' financial burden, he said.