Thursday, August 13, 2020 | ePaper

With bleak fortune jute is still very much a golden fibre

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AT least 10 state-owned jute mills are operating in India while the government of Bangladesh has closed all the 25 public sector jute mills, which would result in adverse impacts on both the domestic and international markets of the country. Jute growers and jute goods exporters feared that Bangladesh jute goods might lose their market in African continents to the lone competitor, India, because of the closure of the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation jute mills since July 1, as per local media reports.
BJMC's jute goods have been facing challenges in keeping their dominance in the African niche market in Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, Italy, Ethiopia and Gambia because of the presence of Indian sacking there, thanks also to the existence of strong Indian communities in those countries.
The main reason for the shutdown of the mills seems to be the cumulative loss of the BJMC which stood at Tk 106.74 billion (roughly 10,674 crores) in the 2018-19 fiscal year since 1972.  But this is the cumulative losses of BJMC --- considering that we give the power sector a subsidy of Tk 8,500 crore annually, surely we could give the jute sector subsidies to run for sometime.
For this is a sector which creates thousands of jobs -- the mills alone create around 50,000 jobs, at its prime creating around over 100,000 jobs, and even now around 50,000. Its unfortunate that the government does not care to enquire into exactly why the resources of the mills hemorrhage. In the adjustment programmes related to the closure of the mills who actually constitute its true beneficiaries and who stand to lose are equations which no government have bothered to carry out.
Bangladeshi jute mills had higher standard machinery in the 1950s -- as per research done by Harvard graduates. So why was no capital reinvestment done since the 1950s -- this is why the previous jute mills were de-nationalised were sold at barely one fiftieth of their actual asset value.
We dont know what will happen to the present jute mills -- but can only speculate that their valuable land will be sold at the same throwaway prices to be used for construction or other purposes. In our opinion the land and other saleable assets should be sold at premium prices, or converted into EPZs to ensure that the previous situations dont repeat themselves. The laid-off workers should be given first priority to be retrenched into the new employment positions.
Finally the government should have a national policy to increase the demand for jute internationally --- jute products were well on their way to earn USD1 billion in the FY 2019-20. While this is far from its heyday we still dominate world jute trade --- exporting almost 80 per cent of the worlds total jute trade in 2018. So policies to explore ways to further enhance world jute demand should have been looked into -- after all its much more valuable to the world than plastic --which is not easily biodegradable. Jute is still very much a golden fibre due to its ability to not cause pollution when thrown away.

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