Women work at a garment factory in Savar

Bangladesh’s import and export volumes in April nosedived as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, new data shows.

Last month, export volumes through Chittagong port fell 87% and imports were down 22% – a crippling blow for the impoverished South Asian nation of 160m people.

According to figures from Chittagong Customs House, April saw 1.24m tonnes of goods exported through the port, compared with over 2.89m tonnes in April last year. And 6.65m tonnes of goods were imported last month against 8.43m tonnes a year ago.

Garment makers and economists have expressed grave concern and fear further deterioration as the deadly virus continues to expand its grip globally.

Retail shops in Europe and the US, the major importers of Bangladeshi products, have started reopening, but on a limited scale, with a return to previous levels of economic activity still in the distance.

However, some Bangladesh garment factories reopened this month, but most commercial activities remain closed as the Covid-19-linked shutdown, which began  on 26 March, is extended until 16 May.

“We could export almost nothing in April as factories remained shut due to lockdown, a scenario that will persist in May as well,” said Siddiqur Rahman, vice president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

He said the apparel sector had lost orders worth billions of dollars in March and April, and the picture for May was as bad.

“We are still hearing order cancellation by buyers and getting no new sourcing decisions from them,” he told The Loadstar.

Mr Rahman, also chairman of apparel manufacturer Sterling Group, added: “Ready goods and raw materials worth millions of dollars remain stockpiled in every factory, which is a big burden for us.”

Research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem said the government needed to ensure working environments could open safely in the coming months so that entrepreneurs could try to recover losses by augmenting production.

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