Monthly Archives: April 2011

BG to set up mini nuclear power plant

BG to set up mini nuclear power plant
Signs four agreements with US company

BG Chairman Ahmed Akbar Sobhan shaking hand with NIC International Inc. President Emily Robert Drwila after signing MoUs on four projects. East West Media Group Limited Chairman Mostafa Kamal Mohiuddin (extreme left) and the US Embassy’s political and economic counsellor John F Danilowic are also seen. SUN PHOTO

Staff Correspondent

Bashundhara Group has joined hands with a US company to set up the country’s first private sector nuclear power plant to help national efforts to resolve the electricity shortfall.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) to this effect was signed between Bashundhara Group and globally reputed NIC International Inc. in the city on Sunday.

The mini nuclear power plant is expected to generate 20 megawatt electricity, company officials told the signing ceremony at the conference hall of East-West Media Group Ltd in the city’s Bashundhara residential area.

The country’s leading entrepreneur and BG Chairman Ahmed Akbar Sobhan and NIC Inc, President Emily Robert Drwila signed the comprehensive MoU that involves three other deals.

Bashundhara Group, under an umbrella deal, will also assemble laptop computers, net-book computers, touchpad, and electronic reader targeting the export market after meeting domestic demands.

In all, the BG is going to invest in four projects, all of which are aimed at bringing ultimate benefits to the people of the country, BG chairman Ahmed Akbar Sobhan said.

He mentioned that the mini nuclear plant would not meet the demand of electricity ‘but will surely set an example for other entrepreneurs to come up with similar initiatives’.

The commissioning of the nuclear power plant project will start soon, subject to approval from the governments of Bangladesh and the United States, the function was told.

The plant is expected to be set up in Manikganj and go into operation within February next year.

Akbar Sobhan said the investment projects would not only expedite the country’s digitisation process but also build national image abroad beside opening gateway for earning foreign exchange.

He thanked the US diplomats in Dhaka for lending their supports to the Bashundhara Group.

The agreement would help increase two-way trade between Bangladesh and the USA, the BG chairman said. Adequate employment opportunities will also be created through these projects for the local people, he added.

Intravenous solution and IV solution transfusion administration set factories will be established under a twin-scheme being undertaken by the two companies. The two units are designed as export-oriented enterprises.

Mostafa Kamal Mohiuddin, Chairman of East West Media Group Limited, said this type of plant would be suitable for addressing strategic needs of electricity as implementation of such a project takes only six to nine months.

“Tropical weather, dense population and scarcity of isolated land are also to be taken into account for medium and large scale nuclear power plant,” he said.

Mohiuddin noted that it is encouraging for Bangladeshis that laptop computers and electronic devices of high demand would be produced in Bangladesh and hit the mainstream Western market.

Appreciating the contribution of Ambassador James F Moriarty and his colleagues to striking the deals, the EWMGL Chairman said this collaboration is not only meant for business but also a symbol of friendly relations between the two countries.

John F Danilowic, political and economic counsellor of the US Embassy in Dhaka, said the technology devices which would be manufactured in the joint venture units would be exported to the USA with permission from the US government.

Chief adviser to BG Chairman Mahaboob Morshed Hasnu, Deputy Managing Directors of BG Mostafizur Rahman and Abul Kalam Azad, Media Adviser to East West Media Group Ltd Abu Tayeb, Editor of daily sun Prof Dr Sayed Anwar Husain, Editor of Kaler Kantho Abed Khan, Editor of Bangladesh Protidin Sahjahan Sardar and other high officials of both the companies were present at the signing ceremony.

Bangladesh: the next name in outsourcing

Business Life
Bangladesh: the next name in outsourcing

Ahmadul HoqM

Abdullah Mamun

Ahmadul Hoq, president of Bangladesh Call Centre and Outsourcing (BACCO), the industry body representing contact centre and business process outsourcing (BPO), speaks to The Daily Star on business opportunities for the call centre industry in Bangladesh. He works with the government and private sector to create strategies for the country to ensure that Bangladesh is the “next” destination of choice for outsourcing and offshoring.

How did you get involved with this business?

At first, I was involved in setting up a call centre in India. India is doing good business. In 2006, I tried to get permission from Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) for voice over internet protocol (VoIP) operations, as my target was to set up a back office here in Dhaka. But the BTRC laughed it off. After a year, the BTRC published the call centre guideline. I worked on the formation of the guidelines.

What are you doing now?

I have a company called Virgo. It is an ISO standard company with 90 seats, and half of them are in use. Of course, we are working on voice services, but we are also doing virtual assistance, software development and content development. We plan to start a big venture soon.

Tell me more about the venture.

The new venture will be a global BPO company. I hope it will be able to create employment for 10 thousand graduates in the next five years. We will provide $100 million in salaries to our employees. When the backup fibre cable will be set up, a lot of work will be created for Bangladesh.

What is about the difference in terms of wage costs between the countries?

The cost of wages is far higher in the developed world than in Bangladesh. It is, on an average, $30 an hour in the European countries. It is even more in the US. India is paying $20 and the Philippines, $10 to $15. But it is still $8 in Bangladesh. So we are in an advantageous position, which is the most important asset for us. A $470 billion work opportunity in the US is waiting for us. It currently outsources 30 percent, while almost half of it can be offshored. Huge opportunities await us.

Which countries are in the call centre market?

Of course, India and the Philippines are the pioneers. South Africa, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Kenya are also in the business. Even Bhutan is working on it. The heads of state of India and the Philippines have prioritised the issue. They took 15 years to reach this situation. If we can do the same, we will also be able to capitalise on the opportunities. We need to form a committee that will report to the prime minister on the issue.

What is the scale of investment required to form a call centre nowadays?

If you want to set up a call centre of 30 seats, then you will have to invest at least Tk 1 crore. A large space is also required, which is very expensive in Dhaka. Telecommunication costs are not competitive, compared to other countries. But the problem is that we do not have trained people. The university students are not ready at all. So you will need to train them for about six months and training costs are also very high.

Revenue sharing with the government is now 0.5 percent but it should be eliminated for at least 10 years. Big businessmen should come to the sector with big investments. We have learnt how to get the business and the technicalities. None will come to us; we will have to go to them. So investment is also needed on the branding side and this is where the government should concentrate on.

Did you face any problems in receiving payment for work done?

A majority of the call centres in the country are facing this problem. Recently, a company did not receive payment worth Tk 14 lakh. The main company did not pay the money. We have no scope to file a case with the courts as laws differ from country to country. So, some local companies are setting up offices in the European markets to get the legal facilities of those countries.

What are your predictions about this sector?

It will not be impossible to deploy half a million people in the sector within the next five to seven years. Before acquiring international services, we need to unlock our home back offices. If the banks come across to offshore their back offices, it will help us obtain international contracts. We believe over 150,000 direct and 37,500 indirect jobs will be created within the next 10 years. It will be possible to earn at least $2 billion a year in foreign exchange.

Chittagong port to go for automation by next month

Chittagong port to go for automation by next month
Staff Correspondent .  Chittagong

Chittagong port, the country’s gateway to foreign trade, is expected to go for automation with the installation of a digital container terminal management system by the end of next month to modernise its operational activities.

At a view exchange meeting with local media on Sunday on the occasion of the 124th founding anniversary of the port, Chittagong Port Authority chairman M Anwarul Islam hoped introduction of the CTMS would increase the efficiency in handling cargo.

‘It will raise the standard of port operation through electronic system instead of paper-based documentation,’ he said, adding, ‘The automation will transform the port into a world class global shipping hub.’

He claimed such automation would also curb corruption and speed up port operation.

CTMS had become a crying need for catering to the global demand and for supporting transit facilities if those are allowed to neighbouring countries, Islam pointed out.

‘We must upgrade Chittagong port to face the global challenge in maritime trade,’ he said, adding that cargo traffic through Chittagong port marked a 15 per cent increase every year.

He also announced that the control room of Chittagong port would be made more functional and updated.

Asked about the recent incident of trapping of two port workers inside a Singapore bound empty container, the chairman said that an interim probe report on the incident had already reached the port authority.

‘But we need to get more details on the incident after the return of the worker found alive in Singapore… It [the incident] called to question our security system,’ he said.

Call centre: the sky is the limit

Business Life
Call centre: the sky is the limit

Employees are at work in a call centre in Dhaka recently. The country is set to earn billions of dollars in foreign currency from the sector. Photo: Amran Hossain

Abdullah Mamun

The year 2007 opened a new door for Bangladesh, offering newer opportunities to earn foreign currency by employing young graduates at home.

Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) introduced its call centre policy for the local investors. The regulator claimed it had found, in terms of salary and career success, the sky was the limit for IT professionals.

The BTRC took on a policy that would enable the country to earn billions of dollars from abroad. A number of entrepreneurs enthused over the issue and around 270 licences were given to the firms.

But the tricks of the trade were not known to many and less than a fourth of the licensees are in the market at present.

Securing one percent of the $600 billion market does not seem impossible for Bangladesh to achieve, insiders say. Avenues are still open — it just needs some initiatives and help from the government as well as the actors in the field. Bangladesh hopes to be the best offshore call centre across the globe.

Why Bangladesh?
In September 2010, British technology magazine Outsource reported on the opportunities of Bangladesh, saying, “The advantages of Bangladesh’s grabbing some of the global sourcing pie are obvious. In particular, the authorities have seen the call centre space as providing an excellent entry-point for Bangladesh into the global market, capitalising upon the country’s historic cultural and linguistic connections with the English-speaking world.”

“However, the government is aware that a good deal of education and incentivisation is required to bring the country into the headlights of organisations looking for a suitable low-cost outsourcing destination — education not just amongst Bangladeshis looking for work, but among organisations with work to place.”

The foremost claim of Bangladesh to qualify as the best place for offshore calls is low wages. Bangladesh has certainly more than 25 percent cost advantage over India. Moreover, Indian call centre operators will soon cease to enjoy its 15-year tax break.

The Philippines has already overtaken India in this sector. So Bangladesh too has a chance to chew its piece of the pie. The readymade garments sector in Bangladesh is taking advantage of low wages and booming day by day.

The same conditions apply to call centres. The universities, colleges and vocational institutions in Bangladesh are producing a large pool of English proficient graduates in all disciplines. A huge number of creative graduates are waiting for a job in the market, which makes the sector lucrative.

Moreover, the English accent of the Bangladeshi people is highly neutral, which gives Bangladesh more advantages compared to other nations in the region. Geo-strategically, the Bangladesh time, (+) 6 GMT, ensures a ‘follow the sun’ services for its global clients.

The business situation
Currently, it is not impressive at all. Some 60 institutions are working with more or less 5,000 agents. Compared to India or the Philippines, it may be even less than half of a large company’s accommodation.

As the licensing fee is only Tk 5,000, many enthusiasts had initially thought it was like setting up a ‘phone-fax’ shop in the alley. As per licence conditions, the BTRC cancelled most of the licences when nothing moved with the licensees through the first six months after the permits were issued.

Looking about and winning a contract from the western world is not an easy task, many found out. The competition is not at home, it is with the experienced world, the entrepreneurs realised. The international standards of services coupled with huge investments made the business tough for most. More or less 10 of the Bangladeshi entities are in profit till now.

Both in the domestic and international services, Bangladeshi call centres are obtaining work orders in voice services or the customer care type contracts. Voice services comprise even less than 10 percent in the business arena, while the main opportunities lie with back office, software development, virtual assistance, transcription or even financial assistance. So Bangladesh has not yet seen any of the more sophisticated work.

A comprehensive roadmap is urgently needed to get the call centres flourished. A target should be fixed as to what Bangladesh would like to see in the next five to ten years. The sector has not been declared to date as an industry, which deprives investors of bank loans, while the return from the business is still slow.

According to call centre guidelines, domestic and international call centre service providers cannot operate from the same premises and systems. So an investment of taka one crore is useless either by day or night as it cannot operate around the clock. Basically, domestic services are performed during the day and the international ones by night.

The country also has no backup in international fibre optic cables. Customers in the western world turn their faces away when they hear that Bangladesh has no backup connectivity. Some time ago, a company tried to obtain work by installing a V-sat, which was to be connected via satellite. But it proved too expensive for the amount of business to be achieved.

It is applaudable that the government took the initiative to be connected with five more cables. But at least one is needed immediately — either submarine or terrestrial — for the ICT industry, as well as the call centre providers, stakeholders say.

The western companies look for experienced call centres but the local industry is still at a nascent stage. It is only a three-year-old industry, still faltering in its steps.

Although the domestic call centre service providers are doing well, it is up to the country’s big financial institutions to now let the call centres provide them with back office problem solutions. Such experiences would be useful for the call centres when they try to secure international contracts.

An insufficient supply of English spoken employees, i.e. students, is a problem for this sector. The educational institutions should take proper steps to groom their students in spoken English, like in India or the Philippines. Call centre operators should train and groom the new employees for up to six months.

Women workers are valued as assets in the call centres. But society is yet to permit girls to work at night or return home late at night due to social taboos and security concerns. Mass awareness campaigns are a must to address this.

Also, marketing in the global arena needs to be addressed. Frequent international exposures are needed to let people know about the country’s presence in the market. Taking part in global expositions to attract new customers is also a must.

Jute goods win back shine

Districts in Focus
Jute goods win back shine

Jute goods are on display at a shop in Rangpur. Manufacturers now download catalogues of jute goods from websites, choose designs and produce various goods of choice. Photo: Rafique SarkerRafique Sarker, Rangpur

A rise in demand for jute products, mainly handicraft goods, has made small enterprises of the north enthusiastic and hopeful to go ahead despite setbacks.

At least 150 enterprises in Rangpur division are now producing jute goods such as mats, travel bags, vanity bags, wallets, sandals, pen-stands, wall mats, curtains and various kinds of showpieces, as per the data of various commercial banks and Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC).

Some of them have opened showrooms at the district and divisional headquarters to display and sell their products. Majority of the enterprises produce jute goods at their own factories and supply them to Dhaka and other parts around the country.

Some enterprises are served by homemade jute goods of their contracted craftsmen.

“Though marginal, we are running our business profitably,” said Masuduzzaman Tuheen, director of Begum Rokeya Craft at Payerabandh under Mithapukur upazila in Rangpur.

The jute goods’ demand has risen in the country for several reasons, Tuheen said. First of all, the craftsmen can procure jute as raw materials for jute goods easily as it grows in abundance in the region, he said.

Tuheen added, information technology, mainly the internet, has opened up many opportunities for them to get elegant designs from various handicraft sites. “We can produce very fashionable jute goods now but that was not possible in the past. It is because of our access to the internet in the rural areas.”

“We download catalogues of jute goods from international websites, choose designs freely from them and produce various goods of choice.”

“The craft workers made this possible as they are much skilled now,” said Zamal Uddin, a BSCIC engineer.

A number of government and non-government organisations, including Bangladesh Rural Development Board (BRDB), BSCIC, Jute Diversification Promotion Centre (JDPC), Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation, RDRS Bangladesh and CARE Bangladesh, have been organising trainings for the craftsmen on producing jute goods for years.

About 25,000 female workers in five northern districts have so far been trained up in making and dealing in various jute goods.

JDPC has been trying to establish linkages with marketing. The centre was set up in 2002 in Rangpur to promote jute products.

“We are acting as a bridge between the commercial buyers and enterprisers to share business information,” said Saher Hossain, regional marketing officer of JDPC.

Tuheen said many of the famous handicraft companies in Dhaka purchase jute products from them. But they sell the products with their own trade name in their company showrooms in the capital, he added.

When asked, Tuheen declined to disclose the names of such companies as the buyers requested them not to do so. He said some enterprises of the north display and sell their jute goods at different fairs across the country.

Anwar Hossain, proprietor of Beauty Satranji Factory at Mongla Kutti village under Pirgachha upazila in Rangpur, said he took part in almost all the handicraft fairs and exhibitions across the country.

“I took part in the Baishakhi Fair at Bangla Academy in Dhaka that concluded yesterday. I sold satranji (jute made multi-coloured mats) worth of about Tk 2 lakh. Usually I travel throughout the country and sell jute products,” Anwar said.

“Fifty craftsmen are working in my factory who had previously taken part in trainings at JDPC in Rangpur,” said Mosharraf Hossain, director of Sonar Bangla Handicraft in Rangpur.

Each of them earns around Tk 7,000 to Tk 8,000 a month by producing jute goods, Hossain added.

Hossain said Bangladeshi jute goods have its demand not only in the domestic markets but also in foreign markets. He said he had got an order to supply jute bags for HP laptops in China. He took part in the bid through internet and got the order.

Unicol Solution, a buying house in Dhaka, purchases jute-made satranji, mobile bags, vanity bags, and shopping bags from him for a Japanese buyer, he added.

Hossain said he has a showroom in Rangpur and he plans to establish another soon.

7 special economic zones under way

7 special economic zones under way
The government says SEZs will promote investment
Jasim Uddin Sarker

The government will set up seven special economic zones in seven divisions and at least three of the SEZs will get into operation by this year, finance ministry officials said.

The main objective to develop the SEZs is to boost local as well as foreign investment, they said.

‘The government has decided to allocate funds in the next budget for setting up the special economic zones in seven divisions of the country. ‘The size of the fund is yet to be decided,’ a senior official of the finance ministry told New Age on Tuesday.

In the first phase, priority will be given to develop three SEZs in Sylhet, Feni and Khulna.

According to the plan, product-based special economic zones will be set up by prioritising the region on the basis of prospects of production and availability of raw materials.

‘The government is looking forward to initiate economic zones very soon as the country needs them to promote investment,’ finance minister AMA Muhith told reporters at NEC conference room on Monday.

He mentioned that the government will implement the decision within December this year. It may take time to get them fully operational simultaneously in all the divisions, he added.

Bangladesh Economic Zone Bill 2010 was passed by the parliament on July 20, 2010.

According to the bill, there will be four types of economic zones — economic zone for local or foreign nationals, private economic zone for local or expatriate Bangladeshis or foreigners, government economic zones and specialised economic zones for specialized industries with private or public-private partnership or government initiative.

Plastic bag emerges as a new export product

Plastic bag emerges as a new export product
Doulot Akter Mala

The woven plastic bag has emerged as a fast-growing new export product, fetching a sizeable amount of export earnings and helping to diversify the country’s export basket.

Recently, the product has gained a wide popularity across the world for its durability, hygienic quality and reasonable price.

A number of local industries have invested billions of takas for production of the bag after they found its vast export potential.

As many as 60 industries have grown up in the last five years with an estimated investment of Tk 15 billion that are making woven sacks for local use as well as for the export market, industry insiders said.

“In the last two months, we have received orders for 4.0 million pieces of sacks from Indian business conglomerate, Birla, and Lafarge cement companies,” said first Vice-President of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), Mr Jashim Uddin.

Mr Jashim, who is the owner of the country’s largest plastic goods industry Bengal Plastic, said the bag is available at a reasonable price and it is also suitable for carrying food grains.

The bag is widely used for carrying cement, fertiliser, rice and other food grains, he said.

Mr. Jashim is also the former president of Bangladesh Plastic Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BPGMEA).

The woven plastic sack comprises 50 per cent of the Tk 7.0 billion direct export earning from plastic goods, he said.

BPGMEA President Mr. Shahedul Islam said the woven sack is a successful example of export diversification.

It has gained tremendous popularity both at home and abroad, he said.

The plastic bag is considered a threat to jute promotion but due to its cheaper price it has become more acceptable to the users than jute bag, he added.

Mr Jashim said the government is preparing a law to discourage use of plastic bags and encourage use of jute bags.

“I am not against the jute promotion initiatives. Jute can be used for different other products, not only for bags,” he said.

A woven plastic sack is available at Tk 12 while a jute bag of the same size costs Tk 70-80, he said.

Referring to a discussion at a recent meeting on encouraging use of jute bags for fertiliser distributed by Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC), Mr. Jashim said the government found that it would have to provide Tk 3.0 billion as subsidies to introduce jute bags, instead of plastic ones.

Prices of food grains will also jump if jute bags are used and this will cause an additional pressure on consumers who are already hit hard by spiralling prices of essentials, he said.

He said the government should sit with the businesses for fixing policies relating to uses of jute, instead of that of plastic.

Forex reserves cross $11b

Forex reserves cross $11b . Dhaka

Central bank’s foreign currency reserves have once again crossed $11 billion mark.

On Tuesday, the reserves were at $10.94 billion, while on Wednesday, they swelled to $11.05 billion.

The reserves had crossed this mark once in October last year but went down to hover between $10 billion and $11 billion as import spending increased.

Bangladesh Bank governor Atiur Rahman said the foreign currency spending had increased following an increase in import demand in the current fiscal.

‘But despite the high spending, the reserve is above $11 billion, which shows that the economy is strong.’

The central bank is yet to publish import stats for March, but for the first eight months of this fiscal, import spending grew by 41.79 per cent.

Atiur said the reserves were enough to provide for six months of import spending.

By international standards, a country should have foreign currency reserves enough for paying three months of import spending.

Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) senior research director Zaid Bakht said though there was pressure on the reserves, but there was not much to be worried about.

‘The current increasing trend in export earnings will presumably go on. Also, a possible boro bumper harvest will also decrease import spending, thus reduce the pressure on reserves.’

Local frozen fish exporters meet US standards

US gives all-clear to BD shrimps
Local frozen fish exporters meet US standards
Sonia H Moni

The United States has no qualms about the quality of Bangladeshi shrimps and labour and safety standards in the country’s thousands of fish farms and processing plants, an industry leader said on Thursday.

Syed Mahmudul Huq, chairman of Bangladesh Shrimp and Fish Foundation, said US experts visited the Bangladeshi shrimp industry over the last two years and their reports have given the sector the all-clear signal.

“It is good news for the frozen fish sector. It is the result of a coordinated effort of the government and stakeholders in the industry,” the BSFF chairman told the FE.

He said the shrimp industry has cleaned up its negative image, weaning itself off child labour and upgrading the processing and freezing facilities to world standard in an effort to allay the fears of western consumers.

“Three high-level teams visited local shrimp farms and processing units since 2009. After returning home, they haven’t come up with any new suggestion, which means they are now satisfied with our labour and safety standards, he said.

“We have been able to eliminate child labour completely from the shrimp industry and provided training, workshop to the workers and shrimp farmers so that they can implement global standards strictly,” he added.

The three teams made the visit after the top US trade union group, the American Federation of Labour and Congress Industrial Organisation (AFL-CIO), lodged complaint with the United States Trade Representative (USTR) about Bangladesh’s shrimp industry.

The influential group prodded the US government to scrap the limited duty-free access facility to the Bangladeshi shrimps if Dhaka fails to comply with its tough labour standards including total elimination of child labour.

The US Congress held public hearing on Bangladeshi labour standards in Washington DC on the AFL-CIO complaint twice in November 2007 and May 2009.

Mr Huq who attended the hearings on behalf of the Bangladeshi shrimp exporters said Bangladesh shrimp industry has graduated into a top global player in terms of quality and labour practices.

BSFF has since identified 10 shrimp processing plants in Chittagong and Khulna as models to implement labour standard compliances in line with the country’s labour laws, 2006.

To meet the global standards, top exporters such as Meenhar Sea Food, Kuliarchar, Atlas, Jalalabad, National, Rupsha Fish, Fresh Food and Sobi Sea Food have upgraded their facilities and trained up factory staff, workers, and contractors.

He said BSFF will organise a seminar on success stories of labour compliances in the local shrimp industry next week.

West Zone Railway implements Tk 1.55b uplift project

West Zone Railway implements Tk 1.55b uplift project

RAJSHAHI, Apr 21 (BSS): The West Zone of Bangladesh Railway has been implementing a Tk 1.55 billion uplift project in Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj districts aiming at bringing dynamism into the railway transportation.

According to the officials concerned, the one and a half years project titled “Rajshahi-Rohanpur Border and Amnura- Chapainawabgonj Railway Track Rehabilitation” is likely to be completed by September next as 60 per cent of the total work was completed.

Talking to the news agency here today, chief engineer of the zone Mozammel Haque said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to lay foundation stone of the project at Amnura Railway Junction under Chapainawabganj district Saturday.

He said the Rajshahi-Rohanpur border section, established in 1930 and now being adjudged as the Trans-Asian Railway Route, and the Amnura- Chapainawabganj section had become unfit for train movement due to lack of renovation works for long.

After taking power, he said the present government had started implementation of the long-lasting project as part of its massive development works in the railway sector.

Under the project, he said 85-kilometer mainline and seven- kilometer loop line is being rehabilitated in addition to renovation of Rajshahi Court, Shitlai, Kakonhat, Amnura and Rohanpur stations side by side with reconstruction of three stations- Chapainawabganj, Nizampur and Golabari.

Besides, platforms of seven stations like Rajshahi Court, Shitlai, Kakonhat, Amnura, Chapainawabganj, Nachole and Rohanpur are being repaired together with platform rising of Chapainawabganj, Amnura, Nizampur, Golabari and Rohanpur stations. Side by side with approach road construction of Rajshahi Court, Shitlai, Kakonhat, Nizampur, Chapainawabganj and Rohanpur stations, seven bridges are being constructed while 25 others repaired.

Some 19 level crossing gates are being maintained and developed while signaling system of six stations being modernised under the project. As a whole, Mozammel Haque said all the railway lines and other works under the project area are being standardised with the Bangladesh Railway mainline.

On successful completion of the project, he hoped that more high-speed trains could run on the route, thereby, carrying of fuel oil to the under-construction power plant at Amnura will be easy and quick.

Moreover, transportation of various imported goods from India to different parts of the country could be easy and safe which help removing regional disparity, he added.

Qubee doubles internet speed

Qubee doubles internet speed
Star Business Report

WiMAX service provider Qubee has doubled its internet speed to provide the fastest wireless internet service to its customers without any extra cost.

“We have bumped our internet speed to twice as fast as it had been previously for every single existing and new customers at no extra cost,” said Nehal Ahmed, chief marketing officer of Qubee.

“This means 256 Kbps users can now enjoy up to 512 Kbps; 512 Kbps users will experience up to 1 Mbps and 1 Mbps users will enjoy up to 2 Mbps without paying any extra charges.”

Ahmed was speaking at the launch of the company’s new initiative at a press conference at Dhaka Sheraton Hotel yesterday.

Introduced in October 2009, Qubee, owned by London-based wireless broadband business company Augere, is the largest WiMAX service provider that handles 20 percent of the total bandwidth traffic in the country.

Its customer’s range from students, young professionals to business owners, said one of the official of the company.

Alistair Johnston, global marketing director of Augere, said “We are committed to continuously enhance the Bangladeshi customers’ experience of internet by offering high speed internet for all.”

So, that move will enable customers to experience fast and reliable internet services at affordable prices, Johnston added.

The company introduced the broadband “Pre Pay” services in the country for the first time and offered modems at Tk 1,000.

Customers can now avail up to 1Mbps speed through Qubee Pre Pay by paying Tk 400 a month.

Shafiqul Islam, chief technical officer of Qubee, said they have plans to roll out as much network coverage as possible across Bangladesh to capture the growing market by offering quality customer care and reliable services.

Firoz Ahmed, head of sales and distribution of Qubee, and Faisal Hyder, chief financial officer, were also present.

Japan Solartech to make panels, batteries in Ctg

Japan Solartech to make panels, batteries in Ctg
Star Business Report

Japan Solartech (Bangladesh) Ltd will start manufacturing solar panels and batteries in Bangladesh in December, eyeing the local market and exports to foreign countries.

The company is a joint venture between UING Corporation, a unit of Japan’s U-TEC Group, and Trade Service International, a trading company and distributor of TOTAL Lubricants in Bangladesh. U-TEC is a manufacturer of solar products and energy-efficient home appliances.

Japan Solartech has selected Chittagong as the production centre.

“Japan Solartech will be a hub for manufacturing solar products and energy-efficient home appliances in this region,” said Masayuki Uchiyama, chairman of U-TEC Group.

Uchiyama spoke at a seminar, “Total solar solutions: A road to sustainable energy” organised by Japan Solartech at Dhaka Hotel Sheraton on Monday.

“We will sell the products not only in Bangladesh; we will expand our sales to countries around Bangladesh very soon and gradually move to the developed countries.”

Speaking as the chief guest, Industries Minister Dilip Barua welcomed the U-TEC Group for investing in the solar systems sector in Bangladesh.

The minister said the venture would help transfer the state-of-the-art technology to Bangladesh, and its solar solutions would not only generate power but also ensure long-term efficient storage of it.

“The solutions will not only help mitigate the existing power problems but also ease government’s efforts to further improve education, information and communication technology and health infrastructures,” said Barua.

Hospitals, clinics, and education institutions can be run through solar-powered appliances to make those services available to a wider population, he added.

The company has recently installed its first hybrid (5KW) solar system at the Gulshan branch office of EXIM Bank.

U-TEC is producing over 8 million solar modules equivalent to around 200MW every year in its factories operating in Japan and China with an annual turnover of $1.7 billion.

Rafiqul Islam, deputy managing director of Japan Solartech, made a presentation on Solar Solution: A road to sustainable energy, and Mike Kataoka, director of SANYO Asia Pte Ltd, made presentation on Solar Evolution: Introduction of high efficiency modules in the seminar.

Abul Kalam Azad, secretary for the ministry of energy, power and mineral resources and Takanori Uehara, chargé d’ affaires of Japan embassy to Bangladesh, also spoke.

Low cost, high quality push up country’s footwear export

Low cost, high quality push up country’s footwear export
Arafat Ara

Country’s footwear export grew by around 50 per cent during the first nine months of the current fiscal year due to the rising demand of the products in the USA and EU (European Union) countries.

The industry insiders said the demand for Bangladeshi footwear items has been increasing gradually in overseas competitive markets due to low production costs.

The quality of the products is also higher than that of other exporting countries and this matter plays a key role in the growth of export, they said.

Earning from footwear export stood at $221.87million during July-March period this fiscal, up by $ 74.12 million from $147.75 million fetched during the corresponding period last fiscal, according to the latest data of Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).

The income was 30.63 per cent higher than the export target fixed by the government for the July-March period.

The industry insiders expressed the hope that the trend of the export would continue in the next three months as well.

Leather Goods and Footwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association of Bangladesh president Saiful Islam said the largest footwear exporting country China is losing its competitiveness in the global market due to her failure to produce high-quality shoes at competitive prices.

“For this, the importers from the USA, Germany, Italy, France, Japan and Canada are shifting to Bangladesh,” he said

Mr Saiful Islam also said despite having many opportunities they cannot properly utilise the potentiality of the sector due to lack of skilled manpower, electricity shortage and transportation problem.

He said the current power outage and poor transportation facility cost them high as this often sends negative signal to top global importers like Macy’s, Sears, JC Penney-USA, Deichmann-Germany, Bata-Italy, Bata-Czechoslovakia, Aldo-Canada and ABC Mart-Japan because of delayed shipments.

“The export growth may increase more than double if we can successfully overcome the obstacles that affect the growing industry,” he said adding that the authority should take immediate measures to ensure uninterrupted power supply considering the outstanding performance of the footwear industry.

The market size of local leather footwear industry stands at around Tk 18 billion (Tk 1,800 crore), of which nearly 45 per cent is exported-oriented. The country exports around six million pairs of leather footwear a year.

Bangladesh exports leather footwear products to various destinations, including the USA, Canada, Germany, Italy, France, Sweden, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Apex Adelchi Footwear Ltd, Jennys Footwear, Bangladesh Exp, HN Shoes, Bay Footwear, Youngone etc are the leading local companies that export footwear.

Bangladesh garment going high-end

Bangladesh garment going high-end
Refayet Ullah Mirdha

With an increased number of orders from international buyers, Bangladesh is graduating from basic garment production to high-end products. The manufacturers are taking orders from the renowned fashion brands worldwide, industry insiders said.

There are signs of the local garment makers gradually shifting to high-end products, because they can now choose from abundant orders. Earlier, the manufacturers had limited scope for bargaining as the buyers’ orders were tight.

Fashion is always changing and clothing brands have to change to survive to keep up with the latest fashion trends and designs, because people love to wear the latest fashion and purchase the trendiest outfit.

Demand for high-end garment items is higher because of their combination of great designs, flawless craftsmanship, high quality and meticulous attention to details, experts said.

Sector people said high-end products take up at least 20 percent of the total exports of garment products from Bangladesh, and the percentage is increasing.

But many manufacturers are not aware that they are exporting the garment items to some world-class fashion brands as the buyers always put pressure for lower prices.

They said many producers do not know their products are going to a high-valued clothing brand store as they are not selling the products directly, and they also lack negotiation skills.

Bangladesh is still a popular spot for low-priced basic garment items thanks to cheap labour.

Bangladesh’s competing countries are shifting their focus to high-end garments, which is a blessing for local manufacturers.

The buyers are flocking to Bangladesh as China, the largest supplier of apparel items worldwide, has higher cost of production.

“As a result, some garment manufacturers, especially big groups are going for high-end production from the basic garment items,” said Asif Zahir, a director of Ananta Group, a leading garment group.

He said his group is also setting up a plant at Adamjee Export Processing Zone to produce high-end male suit from next June. “Manufacturers need a lot of investments in machinery, technologies and in quality improvement to produce high-end garment items,” he said.

Some of the high-end fashion brands like Puma, Tommy Hilfiger, G-Star, Diesel, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, DKNY, Nike, Benetton and Mango have been outsourcing garment products from Bangladesh over the last few years.

Hugo Boss and Adidas are also coming here to outsource high quality garment items from Bangladesh, industry people said.

China, Hong Kong and Turkey were favourite destinations for high-end clothing items to the international buyers, but apparel companies and retailers are already feeling the pinch from higher wages in China and shifting to countries like Bangladesh.

Shakhawat Hossain, chairman of Paramount Textiles, said his group has been supplying fabrics to some world-renowned clothing brands over the years.

“My group supplies fabrics to Hugo Boss, Austin Reed, C and A, Massimo Dutti, Marks and Spencer and Yamaki of Japan, some high-end clothing brands worldwide,” he said.

Industrial output set to rise again

Industrial output set to rise again
Sajjadur Rahman

After three years of slowdown, industrial output is set to rise this year driven by value rather than volume.

According to a recent projection by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), industrial production is expected to grow by 7.5 percent this fiscal year ending on June 30 compared to 6 percent in the previous year.

The sector’s growth was dipping down from robust 8.4 percent in 2006-07 to 6.8 percent in 2007-08 and 6.5 percent in 2008-09, mainly due to the global recession and internal political instability.

Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of Centre for Policy Dialogue, said a rapid rise in imports of raw materials and capital machinery and growing industrial term loan — all show the manufacturing sector is set to go back to the historical growth trend.

According to Rahman, the growth is mostly for cost escalation rather than the volume factors, which can generate employment.

He said growth of the industrial sector is important in terms of absorbing additional labour force as the opportunities in farm and overseas employment sectors are getting squeezed recently.

“There may not be a growth in actual production. It will be in value terms,” said the CPD executive director on this year’s industrial growth projection.

Industrial growth went down during the past few years because of internal and external factors. Bangladesh faced a political turmoil since the last quarter of 2006 till the elected government took the power in early 2009. In the meantime, the global situation also got volatile for economic meltdown originating from the US, which later spread to other parts of the world.

When the global economic condition started to recover in 2010, prices of commodities — from food items to fuel oil, steel and cotton — soared rapidly. The price of cotton, which is a must ingredient for garments, has trebled during the time.

Bangladesh Bank data shows import of industrial raw materials and capital machinery has increased significantly in the first eight months of the current fiscal year.

During the July-February period of the current fiscal year LCs (letters of credit) opened and settled for industrial raw materials were worth of over $10.5 billion and $8.2 billion respectively. The growth rate was 69 percent and 55 percent respectively compared to that of the same period a year ago.

Disbursement of industrial term loan also rose considerably — by over 34 percent to Tk 16,924 crore during the July-December period of 2010-2011 against the same period of the previous year.

“Improvement in power supply and a rise in business confidence are likely to boost activity,” said the ADB in its outlook report for 2011. But there are risks too.

“The inability to bring the planned short-term addition to power supply and slippages in addressing gas shortages would also slow growth, mainly through their effects on industry,” said the Manila-based lender.