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Bangladesh garment makers incomprehensibly enthusiastic over pointless Chinese free trade offer

Bangladesh’s garment making trade association greeted an apparently valueless Free Trade Agreement offer from China on December 29 with a level of enthusiasm indicating a complete lack of understanding about the trade benefits China already pretends to offer the country.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi “offered to sign a free trade agreement,” Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali told reporters on December 29 after a three day visit to Bangladesh by a delegation from China’s foreign ministry. 

China currently exports around $7.5 bn worth of goods to Bangladesh, while importing only around $800 mn. It already claims to give Bangladeshi garments unrestricted (and unreciprocated) duty-free access – yet imports just $240 mn worth of garments from it each year. The EU, with less than half China’s population, imports around $14 billion worth of Chinese clothes.

It is hard – indeed impossible – to see how a free trade agreement could make Bangladeshi garments any easier to sell in China than current arrangements. But, since the point of free trade agreements is that both sides remove restrictions and duties on each others’ goods, such an agreement would make it easier for Chinese exporters to sell in China and further worsen Bangladesh’s adverse balance of trade.

Characteristically, though, Bangladesh’s endlessly gullible garment makers welcomed China’s offer.

“This FTA offer from China is a huge development,” said Shahidullah Azim, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.  “Its domestic garment market is worth over $300 billion so one can imagine the kind of market access we have if Dhaka signs an FTA with Beijing,” he said.

Azim failed to explain quite what access he thought an agreement with China would offer that Bangladesh was not already getting.