Bangladesh Nov exports rise 25 pct on garment sales

DHAKA Sun Dec 22, 2013 5:43am EST

DHAKA Dec 22 (Reuters) - Bangladesh's exports rose 25 percent in November from a year earlier to $2.2 billion, boosted by stronger clothing sales, an export body said on Sunday, though political unrest ahead next month's election has severely hit manufacturing.

In the first five months of the financial year, beginning July 1, exports totaled $11.96 billion, up 18 percent on the same period a year ago, the Export Promotion Bureau said. Garments exports soared 21 percent to $9.65 billion for the five months.

The government raised wages for millions of garment workers this month, following international pressure on the world's second largest clothing exporter after a string of fatal factory accidents that thrust poor working conditions and pay into the spotlight.

Garment makers said orders slumped by as much as 40 percent in October from a year earlier due to political unrest ahead of an election set for Jan. 5. The country's economic activity has come to a standstill due to opposition-led shutdowns and transport blockades.

Rock bottom wages and trade deals with Western countries made the garments sector into a $22 billion industry, that accounts for four-fifths of Bangladesh's exports. Retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc, JC Penney Company Inc and H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB buy clothes from its factories.

But the industry has been under a spotlight after a series of deadly incidents including the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in April that killed more than 1,130 people. A fire at another factory last year killed 112 people.

Bangladesh's foreign exchange reserves hit an all-time high of $18 billion on Thursday, thanks to rising garment exports.

Garment exports totalled $21.5 billion for the financial year that ended in June 2013, up 13 percent from a year earlier when total exports rose 11 percent to more than $27 billion. (Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)