Bangladesh is now the third-largest clothing exporter in the world as Vietnam has knocked it out of the second position, according to the World Trade Statistical Review 2021.
Bangladesh exported $28 billion worth of clothing in 2020, accounting for a 6.3% share of the global market while exports from Vietnam amounted to $29 billion.
Both the countries, however, earned less from exports of clothing in 2020 than in the previous year due to Covid-19. Bangladesh's earnings declined by 15% in 2020, whereas Vietnam's fell by 7%, as said in the report released by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Friday.
Having 31.6% of the global market share, China has maintained its position at the top of the clothing exporters. Exports from China accounted for $142 billion.
Md Shahidullah Azim, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said, "Last year, garment factories in Bangladesh were completely shut down for a long time, while Vietnamese factories did not suspend their production for a single day."
In recent months, Bangladesh has outdone Vietnam, he added.
"We will continue to hold the position as we have a significant number of orders and will exceed the government target of ready-made garment exports of $35 billion by fiscal year 2021-22," Shahidullah added.
Meanwhile, factories in Vietnam are currently shut down because of a lockdown amid a surge in Covid infections, he said.
Dr Ahsan H Mansur, economist and executive director of Policy Research Institute (PRI), said that over the last few years, Vietnam had been showing a steady growth in garment exports but Bangladesh remained stuck.
"It was known that Vietnam would overtake us," he said, adding that in terms of exports to the US, Vietnam had been before Bangladesh and now its overall export exceeded Bangladesh's.
One of the reasons behind Vietnam's progress is that it exports relatively high-priced garments products, Ahsan H Mansur said. "A good chunk of the country's garment exports come from man-made fiber, while we still depend on cotton."
Vietnam is ahead of Bangladesh in technology and has Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Europe, which is being implemented in phases.
All these matters play a role in bolstering the confidence of international buyers in doing business with Vietnam, the economist said emphasizing that Bangladesh needed to focus on using man-made fiber and high technology.
Md Hafizur Rahman, director general at WTO Cell at the Ministry of Commerce, also acknowledged the FTA with the European Union as the strength of Vietnam, which would be fully implemented by 2027.
The WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said a full recovery for global trade in general, depended on rapid, equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines around the world.