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Inflation

Let Good Sense Prevail in Bangladesh’s Garment Industry

Zahid Hussain's picture

The garment industry in Bangladesh has been subject to several tests of resilience in recent years—global recession, energy shortage, input price increases, and labor unrest. Of late, the labor unrest has escalated apparently triggered by disagreement over re-fixation of minimum wage. The workers, for quite some time now, have been pressing for adjustment in minimum wage that was last increased in 2006, after 12 years, from Tk. 930* (about $60 in PPP) per month to Tk. 1,662 (about $108 in PPP) per month. The government in April 2010 committed that a new pay-scale for the RMG workers will be announced before Ramadan, and formed a Wage Board for making the wage recommendations. For reasons not yet fully understood, the labor unrest was reignited recently without waiting to hear what the Wage Board’s recommendations are. However, it is abundantly clear that dissatisfaction with the nominal level of the minimum wage is at the center of the discord between garment owners and workers.

Food Prices and the Inflation Tax

Eliana Cardoso's picture

Oscar Wilde, suspecting that the relationship between price and value hides reasons that reason itself ignores, observes in the Lady Windermere’s Fan that a cynic is “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. The economist will laugh at Wilde’s one-liner. But after a brief moment, she would protest. Theory tells her that value and price is one and the same thing. And she will insist that what matters for South Asians today is the difference between an increase in the price level and an increase in the inflation rate.

The price level increases when there is a supply shock, such as an increase in food and fuel prices. The initial increase in the price level tends to transmit itself to other prices when the economy operates close to capacity. If the price increase is accommodated by monetary policy, the supply shock transforms itself in a spiral of prices and wages and inflation goes up. Monetary authorities do right by not tightening monetary policy in response to the primary impact of supply shocks, but have to be attentive in case the increase in food prices begins to encourage secondary inflationary effects.

South Asia Rebounds

Eliana Cardoso's picture

The future is unpredictable and yet, from time to time, we must take stock of what we accomplished and where we are heading. Over the past decade, better policies and rising integration with the global economy have pushed growth in South Asia upwards. By 2007, the peak year just before the global financial crisis, the region’s GDP growth had reached nearly 9 percent a year (just slightly behind East Asia’s). This growth acceleration extended to all the countries of the region.

The global financial crisis took South Asia’s growth down by about 3 percentage points (from 8.6% in 2007 to 5.6% in 2009). This was the smallest growth decline among all regions of the world and the prospective recovery is already underway. The World Bank expects GDP growth to recover to nearly 7 percent per annum on average in 2010-2011.

Dipak Dasgupta, a Lead Economist at the World Bank, points to four key factors that have cushioned South Asia’s growth decline during the crisis and are helping in the strong recovery.

(1) Remittances held up much stronger in South Asia than in other regions. In Nepal, the reliance on remittances is the highest, and without these flows, growth in consumption would have collapsed.

(2) The resilience of some key export-oriented sectors also helped. Garments in Bangladesh and IT software exports from India, for instance, have held up relatively well.

Does South Asia Run the Risk of Rising Inflation?

Eliana Cardoso's picture

I am old enough to remember the days when Latin America was the land of inflation. Hyperinflation in Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina made the news in the 1980s and early 1990s. At that time, Asia was seen as immune to the Latin disease. Since then, much water has gone under the bridge. Inflation came under control in the majority of Latin American countries. Today the median inflation rate in South Asia is more than twice the size of the median inflation rate in Latin America and the Caribbean. (See chart below)

Should South Asia’s policymakers look at this information and wonder whether they are doing something wrong?

In general, the recipe for hyperinflation is the monetization of budget deficits in countries afflicted by political instability or conflict. Even if the threat of mega inflation is far removed from the South Asia scenarios, the combination of big budget deficits and loose monetary policy seems to be present in some countries of the region.

The Resilience of Bangladesh's Economy May Again be Tested This Year

Zahid Hussain's picture

The Bangladesh economy entered FY10 in a position of strength, notwithstanding some pretty tough global circumstances. Good recovery in agriculture, a sustained growth in exports and remittances, and a steady growth in services helped achieve an estimated overall growth of 5.9 percent in FY09, compared with 6.2 percent in FY08. A decline in international commodity prices driven by the global recession and an improvement in domestic food supplies brought inflation down from 10 percent in FY08 to an estimated 7 percent in FY09. Rice prices have remained stable too at nearly 40 percent below the peak reached in April, 2008. The economy has shown reasonable stability in terms of most other macroeconomic indicators. The external current account has been in a large surplus; the exchange rate has been stable; foreign exchange reserves have reached record high levels of nearly $7.5 billion; fiscal balances have been contained; and private credit growth has remained decent.

This is all good news but it doesn’t mean Bangladesh goes totally unscathed by those tough global circumstances.

Does Collusion Exist in Bangladesh’s Commodity Markets?

Zahid Hussain's picture

Co-authored with FARRIA NAEEM

There is widespread belief among Bangladeshi media, civil society and think tanks that collusion exists in the supply chain of many essential commodities, and many blamed this for the price hike in the first half of 2008. Keeping prices low is a high priority for the government. It is therefore important to measure the presence of market collusion through empirical evidence and design appropriate policy responses to mitigate its impact on prices in order for the government to continue to meet its election promise.

Bangladesh is a net importer of major food items. In the absence of market influences and duties, domestic and international prices are expected to be similar. The convergence may not be exact due to transportation and taxation costs but price should follow similar trends as movements of international commodity prices do not of domestic and international markets do not often vary.

We examine and compare the co-mol prices of four essential food items (coarse rice, flour (atta), salt and soybean oil) over time to look for signs of market influences.