Even as I sit to pen this column, the death toll from China’s Coronavirus epidemic has crossed 2,000, and is still continuing, after 142 more people died, mostly in the worst-hit Hubei Province, and the confirmed cases jumped to almost 70,000, as top World Health Organization (WHO) experts scrambled to assist Beijing to contain the virus spread.
The impact of this outbreak is no longer restricted to China. Scores of ‘positive’ cases are being reported from other parts of the globe, and even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is now warning of a probable damage to the global economic growth this year due to Coronavirus.
Highly dependent on China for its industrial raw materials and finished goods with nearly 28 per cent of Bangladesh’s imports coming in from China (China supplies mostly fabrics and garment accessories to local manufacturers), the readymade garment sector, as is natural, is apprehensive of supply chain breakdown, which would be no good news for the export-oriented apparel sector that is struggling lately on the export front.
It’s not only the supply of raw materials, but the temporary closure of many stores by western brands and retailers in China which are also emerging as a big worry for the industry. The President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturing and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Dr. Rubana Huq, has expressed fears that sales of apparels in China could drop further and therefore sourcing of products from Bangladesh may also decline.
The Government has now stepped in to assess the situation and ready contingency plans accordingly. Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi has expressed hope that if need arises, the country should be able to find alternative markets for raw materials and requested the buyers to give the required time and their approval to shift to alternate source, if need be.
The Chinese Ambassador to Dhaka, Li Jiming, however, dispelled fears of the garment makers. He assured the entrepreneurs that they would not be affected as Chinese people are now coming back to businesses in most cities, except Wuhan, but that will not affect the fundamental picture of supply chain of Bangladeshi RMG sector as the city is not a production centre for textile or apparel products, Li assured.
Even the leather industry – which counts China as a major export destination for leather and leather products – as well as the e-commerce sector of Bangladesh, is fearful of the blow that Coronavirus could deal on their respective domains.
As per E-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (E-CAB), around 60 per cent of the local e-commerce products are imported from China and with the temporary snapping of shipping and fears of air shipment too getting affected, disruption of supply from China is very much within the horizon, felt E-CAB Vice President Mohammad Sahab Uddin.
Even, we at Apparel Resources, had to postpone our sourcing event, The Apparel Sourcing Week 2020, scheduled to be held in Bengaluru (from 20-22 February) to June this year considering the well-being of our valued exhibitors and participants as well as the travel advisories imposed by many countries, which would inconvenience them more.
I hope the testing times do not last long and all are able to get back to business soon. Till then, please take necessary safeguard and pray that we are able to defeat this endemic, which the world has done time and again in the history of mankind!