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Bangladesh garment exports boom despite disasters

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In this photograph taken on June 23, 2010, Bangladeshi women sew clothes in a garment factory in Ashulia. Output from Bangladesh's accident-prone garment sector has increased in June, with demand from foreign retailers still growing despite the country's factory disaster in April.AFP/File

Output from Bangladesh's accident-prone garment sector increased in June, data showed Tuesday, with demand from foreign retailers still growing despite the country's factory disaster in April.

At least 1,129 people were killed when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed outside the capital Dhaka in April, sparking demonstrations against Western brands and prompting some retailers to threaten to cancel orders.

Government data released on Tuesday showed that the country's total exports -- 80 percent of which come from the garment sector -- soared by 16 percent year-on-year in June to $2.7 billion, following an increase of 15 percent in May.

"The disasters didn't have much impact. They are scattered incidents," head of the government's Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) Shuvhashish Bose told AFP, referring to the Rana Plaza tragedy and other factory fires that have killed another 130 workers since November.

Total exports from Bangladesh, the second-biggest clothing manufacturer in the world after China, grew by 11 percent to a record $27.02 billion in the 2012-13 financial year to June.

"The robust export growth was mainly powered by booming garment exports in the second half of the year," Bose told AFP, adding that shipments in June were the highest for the year.

"Exports are growing because most Western retailers still find our prices competitive," he added.

Annual apparel sales stood at $21.52 billion, the EPB data showed, with more than three-quarters destined for Western consumers in Europe and the United States.

On Monday, 70 top retailers including H&M, Inditex and Primark, announced plans to inspect all of their factories in Bangladesh in the next nine months in an effort to improve workers' safety.

The same day the Bangladesh government agreed to a European Union-proposed "sustainability compact" to improve labour rights and factory safety, committing to uphold union rights and to add 200 more inspectors by the end of the year.

The EU is the largest trade partner of Bangladesh, accounting for some 60 percent of Dhaka's annual garment exports.