The shift from a rural, agrarian economy to an urban, industrial economy is integral to the process of economic development (Kaldor, 1966, 1967). Although policymakers in the least developed countries (LDCs) have, at various times, attempted to make agriculture the primary engine of economic growth and employment generation, this approach has not worked, not least because of the contributions of the Green Revolution, which has had the dual effect of increasing agricultural productivity in the LDCs and displacing the rural labour force at the same time. Led by the example of the East Asian economies, most LDCs now accept the need for greater industrialization as the fastest path to economic growth. In particular, countries such as Japan, Taiwan and South Korea have demonstrated that an export-oriented industrial strategy can not only raise per capita income and living standards in a relatively short time; it can also play a vital role in modernizing the economy and integrating it with the global economic system.
, one of the archetypal LDCs, has also been following the same route for the last 25 years. Once derided as a “basket-case” by Henry Kissinger (The Economist, 1996), the country stumbled across an economic opportunity in the late 1970s. New rules had come to govern the international trade in textiles and apparel, allowing low-cost suppliers to gain a foothold in American and European markets. Assisted by foreign partners, and largely unaided by the government, entrepreneurs seized the opportunity and exploited it to the fullest. Over a period of 25 years, the garments export sector has grown into a $6 billion industry that employs over a million people. In the process, it has boosted the overall economic growth of the country and raised the viability of other export-oriented sectors. Bangladesh
This essay analyzes the processes by which global trading rules came to help out a poor country like
. It demonstrates the impact of the rule changes on the garments sector, and the response of the sector to multiple challenges and obstacles. It also discusses what steps Bangladesh should take in order to deal with the full liberalization of the international garments trade, which occurred in January 2005 and which could potentially threaten the country’s growth prospects. Finally, it details some of the recent developments that have occurred since liberalization took effect Bangladesh