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Making South Asian Apparel Exports More Competitive

Ritika D’Souza's picture

Apparel workers in Bangladesh

There is now a huge window of opportunity for South Asia to create more apparel jobs, as rising wages in China compel buyers to look to other sourcing destinations.  Our new report – Stitches to Riches?: Apparel Employment, Trade, and Economic Development in South Asia  –  estimates that the region could create 1.5 million new apparel jobs, of which half a million would be for women. And these jobs would be good for development, because they employ low-skilled workers in large numbers, bring women into the workforce (which benefits their families and society), and facilitate knowledge spillovers that benefit the economy as a whole.

But for these jobs to be created, our report finds that apparel producers will need to become more competitive – chiefly by (i) strengthening links between the apparel and textile sectors; (ii) moving into design, marketing, and branding; and (iii) shifting from a concentration on cotton products to including those made from man-made fibers (MMFs) – now discouraged by high tariffs and import barriers. These suggestions recently drew strong support from panels of academics and representatives from the private sector and government when the report was launched mid-year in Colombo, Delhi, Dhaka, and Islamabad. South Asia is now moving on some of these fronts but a lot more could be done.

Moving up the apparel value chain
Stitches to Riches? finds that South Asia’s abundant low-cost labor supply makes it extremely cost competitive (except for possibly Sri Lanka). But rapidly rising living costs in apparel manufacturing hubs, coupled with international scrutiny, are increasing pressure on producers to raise wages. Plus, countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, who enjoy a similar cost advantage, are entering the fray, and some East Asian countries already pose a big challenge. The good news is that the policy reforms needed to keep the apparel sector competitive would likely benefit other export industries and transform economies (view end of the blog).

Webinar Jan. 10: Urbanization Along the Waterfront

Parul Agarwala's picture

Riverfront as cultural center, IndiaHistorically, cities and civilizations have flourished along water bodies, which not only served as important transportation corridors to spur economic activity and trade, but also as prominent public spaces for religious and cultural interaction. Today, while a large number of cities have turned away from this important natural resource, many have reclaimed and transformed their waterfronts into thriving economic engines and nodes of social activity. Can cities redefine their relationship with water while managing challenges of rapid urbanization?

The World Bank’s South Asia Sustainable Development Unit, in collaboration with East Asia Pacific Sustainable Development Unit, is organizing a webinar on waterfront development to discuss different dimensions of waterfront initiatives and tools for a sustainable regenerative economic environment.

Better Jobs Can Outweigh a Secure Life

Zahid Hussain's picture

People on a boat in BangladeshOn Nov. 7, 2012, a motorboat carrying 110 illegal immigrants heading for Malaysia capsized in the Bay of Bengal close to Bangladesh’s southeastern border with Myanmar. This tragedy came less than a fortnight after a boat with more than 135 passengers capsized in the same area. “Boat capsized with illegal immigrants from Bangladesh” is a recurring story, with Thailand, Malaysia, and other Southeast Asian countries the destinations of illegal work seekers. What makes Bangladeshis resort to such extreme methods of migration?