UPDATE 1-Bangladesh exports up 11 pct in 2013/14 as garment sales surge

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DHAKA, July 10 (Reuters) - Bangladesh’s exports in the 2013/14 financial year that ended in June rose 11.65 percent from a year earlier to nearly $30.18 billion, boosted by stronger clothing sales, the Export Promotion Bureau said on Thursday.

Garments are a vital sector for the South Asian nation, whose low wages and duty-free access to Western markets have helped make it the world’s largest apparel exporter after China.

Garment exports surged 14 percent to $24.5 billion in 2013/14 from a year earlier.

But the total exports were 1 percent below the target of $30.5 billion, partly because of political violence leading up to an election in January that crippled the economy.

The readymade garment industry employs four million people, and the industry generates 80 percent of the country’s export earnings.

Bangladesh has to do more to improve factory conditions and workers rights in order to have U.S. trade benefits restored, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said earlier this month.

President Barack Obama revoked longtime trade benefits for Bangladesh a year ago, after a garment factory collapse and a factory fire killed more than 1,200 people, and gave the country a checklist of things to improve.

Late last year, the government raised the minimum wage for garment workers by 77 percent to 5,300 taka ($68) and amended its labour law to boost workers’ rights, including the freedom to form trade unions. It is also cooperating with garment factory inspections by safety experts hired by retailer brands.

But erratic decision-making poses a new set of problems for the industry, whose safety record has been under the microscope since the collapse of a factory near Dhaka that killed more than 1,100 workers last year.

In its new budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, Bangladesh announced minor sops to improve safety in the garment industry, but did not allocate new funds to relocate dangerous buildings.

The budget removed import duties on raw materials to make pre-fabricated buildings and abolished taxes on safety equipment such as fire-resistant doors and emergency lights.

The garment industry had been looking for government support to buy land and relocate factories in unsafe buildings to a planned industrial park in a bid to restore the confidence of Western buyers.

Global buyers have also slowly started pulling out orders from around 30 percent of the garment factories housed in unsafe, shared buildings and which employ 1.5 million workers, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said. (Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Kim Coghill)