Apparel accessory makers and packagers are providing one of the most important backward linkages to the country’s golden goose—the readymade garments (RMG) sector—with direct exports of accessory items increasing by 10 to 15 per cent to nearly $1 bn in the last financial year. Abdul Kader Khan, President of the Bangladesh Garments Accessories and Packaging Manufacturers’ and Exporters’ Association (BGAPMEA), said that China used to be the biggest source of accessory items, but it has shut down many of its accessory factories on account of environmental issues. “Secondly, China has started shifting to hightech industries. The opportunity is beckoning us,” he explained. Bangladesh exports accessory items to countries like Sri Lanka, South Africa, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, said Khan, who is also the Managing Director of Khan Accessories and Packaging Co. Ltd. When asked about the items, Khan replied that Bangladesh produced and exported accessories like woven labels, leather badges, stone and metal motifs, rubber patches, gum tapes, satin and cotton ribbon hangers, price tags, buttons and zippers.

The indirect contribution has always been 15 to 20 per cent of the net export earnings of the RMG sector. Export earnings for RMG in 2017–18 FY (July–June) totaled $30.61 bn, of which approximately $6.1 bn came from accessory items used in the RMG, leather, pharmaceutical and other export-oriented sectors. In the RMG sector, the accessory makers and packagers supply 34 types of products, disclosed industry insiders. They added that with proper policy support and financial incentives, both indirect and direct export earnings in the sector can be increased by up to three times over the next couple of years. After describing the challenges, Khan said the sector could grow big with the right policy support. “There is a $24-bn market for garment accessories just in Asia, and China now accounts for the lion’s share of it. Our products are as good as theirs, and we have the potential to grab that market,” he asserted.

He added that the association now has around 1,650 members, and the number is growing by the year. Khan pointed out that even two decades ago, Bangladesh used to rely fully on imports of accessories to feed its growing garments industry. “Now the accessories sector has helped the country become self-sufficient in terms of the backward linkage to the garments sector,” he said. He added that the accessory makers have boosted their capacities and can almost fully meet the demands of the garment exporters. Khan said they anticipate growth in business, as local and international buyers have evinced increased interest in the sector this year, with the recovery of the global economy. “We have demanded cash incentives on exports several times, as this has been contributing nearly fully to export-oriented sectors,” he said.

Dr. Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Research Director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said the garment accessory makers and packagers (GAP) industry should not be treated as a backward linkage industry. In his opinion, it should be recognised and categorised as an independent entity and designated an “accessories industry”. “Not just in the RMG sector, accessory items are also meeting the demand of the country’s agro-business and plastic sectors,” he said. Bangladeshi accessory items are exported abroad, which eventually helps support the backward linkages of the country’s other businesses, he observed.