Coronavirus: Pakistan's Exports Crash Amid Global Health Crisis

Pakistan Textile Industry was celebrating a big milestone with 20% jump in exports in February 2020 when coronavirus struck a heavy blow. Some western retailers canceled orders while others put them on hold as the virus spread to Western Europe and the United States in late February and early March. Then came the lockdown in Pakistan that shut down factories and halted transport in Pakistan.

Here's how Guido Schlossman, President and CEO of Synergies Worldwide, a global supply chain management firm with an office in Pakistan, summed up the situation for Sourcing Journal: “Most clients have either cancelled or put orders on hold...That would have huge ramifications and losses, and the fear is that most small factories may shut, whereas the mid and big factories will have huge financial liabilities and losses.” “Ninety-five percent of clients have either cancelled, put on hold or given new delivery dates ranging from 4-6 weeks delay to about 8-10 months,” Schlossman said. “That is how huge the holding period and losses would be for the factories.”

“All over Pakistan it’s a complete lockdown in all the provinces everywhere,” Hafiz Mustanser Ahmed, managing director of Lahore-based factory U.S. Apparel and Textiles, told Sourcing Journal last week. U.S. Apparel & Textiles, which typically produces 100,000 garments a day, is seeing “huge, huge” order cancellations, Ahmed said.

“The transportation when it comes to taking the employees to the factories or the public transportation, it’s all 100 percent closed. All the factories are closed.” For now, moving goods back and forth between the ports and Lahore, Pakistan’s second-biggest textile manufacturing hub after Karachi, is still allowed, but there simply aren’t many goods to move, said Ahmed, whose factory produces denim bottoms for Levi’s, Target, H&M, J.Crew, Primark and Costco, to name a few.

Other Asian garment exporting nations face a similar situation. Bangladesh has issued stay-at-home orders and India has ordered a 21-day nationwide lock-down. The difference is that Pakistan exports had just begun to recover when the COVID-19 global pandemic struck. Now demand for apparel in the western markets is not likely to materialize for at least a month or two. Meanwhile, job losses in Pakistan are almost certain. A prolonged slump in the west will spell disaster for Pakistan's exports and delay the nation's economic recovery.

Pakistan's service economy will also suffer in a prolonged lock-down. Service sector accounts for  50% of the world GDP and 54% of Pakistan's GDP.  Social distancing will significantly impact the services, particularly retail, restaurants, travel, transport and education sectors. Imran Khan has expressed fear that the pandemic will devastate the economies of developing countries. “My worry is poverty and hunger," Khan said. "The world community has to think of some sort of a debt write-off for countries like us, which are very vulnerable, at least that will help us in coping with (the coronavirus).”

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Comment by Riaz Haq on March 28, 2020 at 10:58am

#Economic activities in #Pakistan continue as some retailers still buying. “Pakistan is expected to achieve some 50% export target this month (March)..US retail chain Costco is still taking supplies.." Govt trying to make sure #agriculture unhurt. #exports https://tribune.com.pk/story/2185785/2-economic-activities-continue...

The rice industry, whose exports are worth $2 billion a year, has also managed to operate. The government will not charge demurrages for delay in clearance of import and export containers at ports.

However, many other industries and services sector, except for the essential ones, will bear losses of billions of rupees due to lockdown in almost the entire country to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The Express Tribune tries to estimate damages to the national economy. “Pakistan is expected to achieve some 50% export target this month (March),” Pakistan Business Council (PBC) CEO Ehsan Malik said.

“The US retail chain Costco is still taking supplies from around the world. Besides, many Asian countries remain operational,” he said.

Pakistan’s average exports came in slightly lower than $2 billion a month in the first eight months (Jul-Feb) of the current fiscal year, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS).

“We are trying to make sure, in collaboration with the government, that those export industries continue to operate whose orders have not been delayed and cancelled by the international buyers,” Malik said. The list of employees of the export industries and those which are considered essential industries and services have been provided to the government and the law enforcement agencies are letting them commute between factories and homes.

These industries include food, pharmaceutical, textile and fast moving consumer goods like soaps, shampoos and detergents, which also come under the essential goods category.

“Essential food and pharmaceutical industries cannot operate in isolation and that is why we have taken permission from the government to let the packaging and printing industry operate as well,” Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) President Anjum Nisar said.

“Soap and sanitiser manufacturing industries also come under essential goods manufacturers since we need the two products to protect people from coronavirus,” he said.

Malik voiced fear that exports may gradually drop to a very low level in the next three to four months, but stressed that they would gradually return to normal by December 2020. Besides, non-essential industries and services would be badly hit by the lockdown. Many big industrial units including the three Japanese car manufacturers (Toyota, Honda and Suzuki), big textile and cement-makers including Gul Ahmed, Interloop and Lucky Cement have stopped production, according to a private TV channel.

Giving a rough estimate as to how the lockdown would impact the overall economic activity, Malik said, “One-third of the industrial production may be impacted and the share of industrial production in the overall GDP (gross domestic product) stands at around 18%.”

The share of wholesale and retail stands at around 18-20% in GDP. “It may come down by around 20%.”

The share of services sector (like doctors, bankers, lawyers, barbers, tailors and cobblers) has increased to around half of GDP over a period of time. “A majority of them may feel the heat of the melting economy except for the financial sector,” he said. Malik said the agriculture sector, whose share in GDP stood at around 50%, would remain unhurt since the government was making sure that the ready-to-harvest wheat crop was procured to achieve food security.

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) revised down its projection for economic growth to 3% last week compared to 3.5% before January 2020.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 1, 2020 at 10:01am

#Pakistan's #copper #export to #China up 400%
in 3 years from $106 million to $550 million in 2019. Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) that is #mining Saindak expects to grow export to $10 billion per year once Reko Diq is settled. #economy #CPEC https://nation.com.pk/31-Mar-2020/pakistan-copper-s-export-to-china-increase-by-400-percent

Pakistan has confirmed a 400 percent increase in the export of copper products to China in the recent year.

According to a report published by China Economic Net, this huge rise in the export of copper and other copper-related products from the country has helped to boost local industry.

Three year back exports of copper from Pakistan were of only 106 million dollars, however, In the year 2019, copper exports to China have risen to 550 million dollars.

The current rise in exports is seen though the largest copper reserves of Pakistan "Reko Diq project" which is under dispute at the international court of justice.

If the dispute settles down shortly then one of the biggest players in the copper industry of China, Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) that is mining in Saindak mines expects to take the export to $10 billion per year.
It is to be noted that mining and processing of copper requires a high-end technology and the expertise of Chinese copper processing companies like MCC have played a very vital role to develop the Saindak copper mines from the year 1995 onwards.

Talking to CEN, Director of Administration Office Song Guozhao said that Saindak Copper-Gold Project is designed to produce and process 12,800 tons of copper ores per day (4.25 million tons per year); currently, the output of copper blister is about 13,000 tons annually.

“By the end of February 2020, the project has a total of 1,977 employees, 256 Chinese and 1,721 Pakistani, of which the number of local employees accounts for 87% of the total,” he mentioned.

He stated that as the Pakistani managerial and technical personnel continuously improve their capacity, the company will further, carry forward the process of localized administration.

Saindak Copper-Gold Project composes of three ore bodies, that is the South, the North and the East Ore Bodies (SOB, NOB & EOB). The MCC has been working in SOB and NOB, and the mineable resources in the two ore bodies are going to run out soon.

The Chinese and Pakistani sides are in close communication on its feasibility. Since the other two ore bodies are going to run out of resources soon,

it is imperative to find supplementary resources so that the development of the project would be sustained, the employment of local people will be secured, and more continuous contributions will be made to local economy, Song said.

Saindak is an open-pit mining project rather than underground mining, so there is no sinking problem in the mining area. We have been operating the project for so many years and we have a good knowledge and understanding of the country, especially the mining industry, cultural environment, religious practices in Balochistan.

We also enjoy sound cooperation with federal and local governments and other partners in Pakistan. Given this, we are willing to expand our investment in the mining sector in Pakistan.

We are interested in the development of the H4 and Reko-Diq, and we hope that the Pakistani government will conduct international tenders for these projects as soon as possible, Song added.

Talking with CEN, Commercial Counselor of Pakistan Embassy in China Badar u Zaman said that the Pakistani government is eager to increase the exports of copper to China.

The commercial section of the embassy is putting huge efforts which have resulted in a 400 percent increase in copper exports in the last two years.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 1, 2020 at 10:27am

#Pakistan #informationtechnology (IT) #exports rise to $887 million in 8 months of current fiscal year 2019-20, strong 26.24% growth from $702.990 million during the same period last year. #tech - https://www.technologytimes.pk/2020/04/01/it-export-remittances-inc...

PSEB Managing Director, Syed Ali Abbas Hasani, stated in his briefing that Pakistan’s IT & IT-enabled Services (ITeS) export remittances, including telecommunication, computer and information services, have surged to $887.470 million, showing a growth rate of 26.24 percent during the first eight months of the fiscal year 2019-2020 as compared to $702.990 million during the same period last year.

While the number of registered IT & ITeS companies have increased by a stellar 26.35%. He stated that Korean Exim Bank has principally agreed to give funding for the establishment of a state of the IT Park in Karachi and that training in emerging technologies of 2,000 fresh IT graduates and professionals working in the industry will start from May 2020.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 4, 2020 at 4:34pm

#Islamabad Government Think Tank PIDE: #Coronavirus to cost #Pakistan #economy over $15 billion and result in 12 million job losses amounting to 20% of all employment due to #lockdown with moderate restrictions. #unemployment #poverty #hunger https://menafn.com/1099965779/Coronavirus-to-cost-Pakistan-economy-...

The federal government of Pakistan has worked out the impact of losses of pandemic Covid-19 virus on some sectors of the national economy and shared the initial assessment that total losses stood at the whopping figure of Rs2.5tn (around $15.6bn).
Official estimates first time shared with a selected group of reporters in the aftermath of the outbreak of coronavirus reveal that under moderate restrictions, employment loss could be up to 12mn, around 20% of the employed labour force of the country.
The total labour force in the country stood at 60mn-65mn and moderate estimates calculated by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), an affiliate of Planning Commission, showed that the lingering pandemic could result into unemployment ranging from 12mn to 20mn.
The PIDE had assessed that the monthly average losses of losing jobs stood at Rs180bn to Rs260bn, so in the worst-case scenario basis, the estimated losses could go up to Rs780bn in the next three months.
However, the government has decided to provide Rs4,000 monthly stipend to expected job losers.
The Planning Commission, under deputy chairman Planning Commission Dr Mohammad Jehanzeb Khan, worked out the initial losses caused by Covid-19 pandemic on a few selected sectors of the economy in consultation with ministries/divisions and international donors in more than last two-week period.
These estimates have been worked out such as government-owned/department business losses, tax revenues collected by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), massive reduction in import and export (trade figures losses) and these estimates did not include losses on account of GDP growth rate.
The top official said it was widely believed that the impact of the virus and the severity of lockdowns on the overall economy may have a severe impact on economic performance parameters.
'We have coordinated our efforts to assess the quickly evolving situation. Initial estimates put a business loss amount over Rs450bn for the fourth quarter (April-June) period of the current fiscal year.
Please bear in mind we continue to assess the situation and information from other sectors is coming, said the official.
When asked about more details, the official sources said that these were assessed through incurring losses of PIA, Pakistan Railways and other public sector entities.
They said that the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) shared information that the stock market tumbled and it so far caused losses to the tune of Rs200bn to Rs250bn.
The government's business loss might escalate further because it did not include the overall losses on account of GDP growth and important sectors like agriculture, manufacturing and services sectors amid halting economic activities in all sphere of lives.
On the government's tax revenue side, the official said that it was expected that the FBR could see a decrease in revenue/cash outflow of around Rs600bn alone in the fourth quarter (April-June) period of the current fiscal year.
Initially, the FBR had estimated revenue losses of Rs380bn but they revised upward their losses in the wake of additional Rs200bn losses on account of deferment of utility bills, including electricity and gas and then release of stuck-up refunds to the tune of Rs100bn.
The official sources said that these figures of revenue losses were shared by the FBR.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 7, 2020 at 4:15pm

#Coronavirus Pandemic Will Forever Alter the World Order. Triumphs like #polio #vaccine and eradication of #smallpox, or marvel of #medical #diagnosis through #ArtificialIntelligence, have lulled us into a dangerous complacency. https://www.henryakissinger.com/articles/the-coronavirus-pandemic-w... via @bloombergdotorg

Drawing lessons from the development of the Marshall Plan and the Manhattan Project, the U.S. is obliged to undertake a major effort in three domains. First, shore up global resilience to infectious disease. Triumphs of medical science like the polio vaccine and the eradication of smallpox, or the emerging statistical-technical marvel of medical diagnosis through artificial intelligence, have lulled us into a dangerous complacency. We need to develop new techniques and technologies for infection control and commensurate vaccines across large populations. Cities, states and regions must consistently prepare to protect their people from pandemics through stockpiling, cooperative planning and exploration at the frontiers of science.

Second, strive to heal the wounds to the world economy. Global leaders have learned important lessons from the 2008 financial crisis. The current economic crisis is more complex: The contraction unleashed by the coronavirus is, in its speed and global scale, unlike anything ever known in history. And necessary public-health measures such as social distancing and closing schools and businesses are contributing to the economic pain. Programs should also seek to ameliorate the effects of impending chaos on the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Third, safeguard the principles of the liberal world order. The founding legend of modern government is a walled city protected by powerful rulers, sometimes despotic, other times benevolent, yet always strong enough to protect the people from an external enemy. Enlightenment thinkers reframed this concept, arguing that the purpose of the legitimate state is to provide for the fundamental needs of the people: security, order, economic well-being, and justice. Individuals cannot secure these things on their own. The pandemic has prompted an anachronism, a revival of the walled city in an age when prosperity depends on global trade and movement of people.

The world’s democracies need to defend and sustain their Enlightenment values. A global retreat from balancing power with legitimacy will cause the social contract to disintegrate both domestically and internationally. Yet this millennial issue of legitimacy and power cannot be settled simultaneously with the effort to overcome the Covid-19 plague. Restraint is necessary on all sides—in both domestic politics and international diplomacy. Priorities must be established.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 11, 2020 at 5:49pm

#Pakistan reopens factories with precautionary measures with only essential employees and ensuring regular #disinfection. Exporters such as Interloop Ltd., which supplies to Nike Inc. and Puma SE, have reopened their factories. #COVID19 #exports #economy http://a.msn.com/0H/en-xl/BB12qGE3?ocid=st2

Pakistan is reopening some factories amid a national lockdown to counter the deadly coronavirus pandemic as the south Asian nation expects its exports will decline by 50% in the next two months.

The companies with export orders will start working again with precautionary measures including calling in only essential employees and ensuring regular disinfection, Abdul Razak Dawood, the commerce adviser said in a phone call, late Thursday. Exporters such as Interloop Ltd., which supplies to Nike Inc. and Puma SE, have reopened their factories.

The International Monetary Fund plans to approve and disburse an additional $1.4 billion in emergency financing to Pakistan next week to help the nation shield its economy. This is in addition to Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has warned the pandemic may spread in coming weeks, announcing multiple stimulus packages including its largest-ever cash payouts and for the reopening of the construction industry starting next week.

Pakistan’s decision to reopen some factories comes after a global slowdown and the IMF predicting the world economy this year will suffer its worst recession since the Great Depression. A Bloomberg survey forecast Pakistan’s $315 billion economy will expand 0.8% this year, compared with the earlier forecast of 2.6%. The country’s exports fell 8.5% in March.

Pakistan had pinned its hopes of getting out of its regular economic boom and bust cycle through exports but they will fall by as much as 50% over the next few months, Dawood said. There will be a “slow recovery, very slow recovery,” he added.

The virus outbreak has infected 4,489 people and 63 have died amid low testing in Pakistan. The government has said it will take a decision on April 14 whether to extend the nationwide partial lockdown.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 12, 2020 at 4:33pm

Pakistan PM Seeks #Debt Relief for Developing Nations to Fight #CoronaVirus. #ImranKhan's appeal coincided with Wold Bank report warning of the worst economic performance in 40 years in #SouthAsia. #India #Pakistan #Bangladesh #economy #lockdown #COVID19 https://www.voanews.com/science-health/coronavirus-outbreak/pakista...

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan appealed to the international community Sunday to provide developing countries with an urgent debt relief to help tackle the COVID-19 crisis facing them.

Khan made his “global initiative on debt relief” appeal on a day when a Wold Bank report warned countries in South Asia, including Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, are on course to experience their worst economic performance in 40 years in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

In his nationally televised speech, Prime Minister Khan said the developed world is focused on containing the deadly pandemic through lockdowns and dealing with its economic impacts at the same time.

But he lamented struggling economies like that of Pakistan have been hit hard by restrictions on movement that have halted economic activity, caused widespread unemployment and triggered new challenges.

While stopping the virus from killing people, the “biggest worry” for the developing world now is that people are dying of hunger as a result of the lockdown , Khan lamented.

“The problem they face now is a lack of fiscal space. We don’t have the money to spend on already the overstretched health services and to stop people from dying of hunger.”

Khan insisted that rich countries have come up with trillions of dollars of relief packages for their people to offset immediate economic fallout, but that luxury is not available to his and other developing nations to manage the unfolding challenges.

“To give an example of Pakistan, with a population of 220 million, so far the maximum stimulus (relief package) we could afford is $8 billion, and this is the issue with most of the developing world,” he said.

Khan’s government rolled the largest social protection program in Pakistan’s history last week to pay nearly $1 billon to more than 12 million poverty-stricken families, or an estimated 80 million individuals, to help alleviate the economic fallout of the outbreak.

“Therefore, I will be appealing to the world leaders, to the heads of financial institutions, to the Secretary General of (the) United Nations to launch an initiative that will give debt relief to developing countries to combat the coronavirus.”

Pakistan, where an estimated 40% of people live in poverty, owes more than $100 billion debt to international lenders and a large chunk of the national budget is consumed by debt servicing.

World Bank Report

The world’s most populous region of South Asia which houses 1.8 billion people, “finds itself in a perfect storm” in the wake of the pandemic outbreak, according to the World Bank report.

It forecasted the regional growth is likely to drop to between 1.8% and 2.8% in 2020 from the pre-pandemic projection of 6.3%.

“Tourism has dried up, supply chains have been disrupted, demand for garments has collapsed and consumer and investor sentiments have deteriorated, international capital is being withdrawn and inflows of remittances are being disrupted,” the report warned.

Unlike other nations worst-hit by COVID-19, South Asian countries have so far reported fewer than 15,000 cases of infections, with India, the largest country in the region accounting for more than 8,000. Pakistan recorded 5,200 infections, with at least 88 deaths, as of Sunday.

But experts fear the region, with some of the world’s most densely populated cities, could become the next coronavirus hotspot.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 12, 2020 at 7:59pm

World Bank: South Asia Economic Focus, Spring 2020 : The Cursed Blessing of Public Banks


https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/33478


The economic outlook for South Asia is dire. South Asia will likely experience the worst economic performance of the last 40 years. Because of the unparalleled uncertainty, this report presents a range forecast, estimating that regional growth will fall to a range between 1.8 and 2.8 percent in 2020, down from 6.3 percent projected six months ago. Hardest hit is Maldives where GDP is expected to decline by between 8.5 and 13 percent this year, as tourism has dried up. Also, for Af- ghanistan, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, the full range of their forecast GDP growth for this fiscal year is in negative territory. In a worst-case scenario, the whole region would experience a contraction of GDP.
The dire forecast is based on the analysis of several adverse impacts. South Asia finds itself in a perfect storm. Tourism has dried up, supply chains have been disrupted, demand for garments has collapsed, consumer and investor sentiments have deteriorated, international capital is being withdrawn and inflows of remittances are being disrupted. On top of the deterioration of the international environment, the lockdown in most countries has frozen large parts of the domestic economy.
The crisis will reinforce inequality in South Asia. Even more worrisome than the grim macroeconomic outlook is the realization that the impact on the poorest in the population will be much harsher than the consequences for more affluent people. Analysis shows that poor people have a higher likelihood of having lost their work, and domestic migrant workers who had escaped rural poverty by finding work in cities are being forced back into rural poverty again. Many of the poorest face higher risk of food insecurity.
Policy makers are in unchartered territory and must consider innovative policies. In their immediate response, the fo- cus has been rightly on mitigating the spread of COVID-19. While doing that, conditions should be created to jumpstart the economy, once countries emerge out of the immediate health crisis. A combination of temporary work programs and a moratorium on debt servicing and rent payments could help prepare for the restart of the economies. After tackling the immediate COVID-19 threat, South Asian countries must keep their sovereign debt sustainable through fiscal prudence and debt relief initiatives. In the longer run, South Asia would do well by diversifying its international connections, while there are great opportunities to expand digital technologies for payment systems and distant learning to unlock remote areas in South Asia.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 12, 2020 at 8:00pm

Pandemic a 'perfect storm' for South Asia, World Bank says
AFP | Dawn.comUpdated April 12, 2020

https://www.dawn.com/news/1548587


South Asia is on course for its worst economic performance in 40 years, with decades of progress in the battle against poverty at risk, because of coronavirus, the World Bank said Sunday.

India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other smaller nations, which have 1.8 billion people and some of the planet's most densely populated cities, have so far reported relatively few coronavirus cases but experts fear they could be the next hotspots.

The dire economic effects are already much in evidence, with widespread lockdowns freezing most normal activity, Western factory orders cancelled and vast numbers of poor workers suddenly jobless.

--------

Pakistan
In its brief on Pakistan, the report noted: "Pakistan made considerable progress toward macroeconomic stabilisation during the first 8 months of FY20. Measures taken by the authorities helped reduce domestic and external imbalances although at the cost of dampened economic activity. Covid-19 pandemic related disruptions have further strained economic activity.

"Output is expected to contract sharply in Q4-FY20, bringing overall FY20 growth to -1.3 per cent. These developments have put pressure on Pakistan’s fiscal position, as tax collection is being adversely impacted while spending needs are increasing.

"The rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus since February 2020 has brought economic activity to a near halt. Most of the country has been placed under a partial lockdown. The closure of non-essential businesses and domestic supply chain disruptions are having a significant impact on wholesale and retail trade and transport, storage and communication, the largest sub-sectors of the services sector.

"The informal sector and daily wage workers employed in the formal sector are expected to bear most of the costs of expected slowdown in internal demand. The informal sector accounts for 72 percent of employment while informal workers in the formal sector account for another 5 per cent of the total. The expected reduction of employment and incomes in the informal sector will have negative impact on poverty, particularly in urban areas."

Outlook
Real GDP growth is projected to contract by 1.3 per cent in FY20 as domestic and global economic activity slows down sharply in the last four months of the fiscal year, according to the report. "The outbreak of Covid-19 will impact growth beyond FY20. Under the baseline scenario, growth will remain muted at 0.9 per cent in FY21 before reaching 3.2 per cent in FY22.

"Inflation is expected to average 11.8 per cent in FY20 and to gradually decline thereafter. The current account deficit is projected to narrow to 1.9 per cent in FY20, as imports contract more than exports."

"The fiscal deficit is expected to remain elevated, at 9.5 and 8.7 per cent of GDP in FY20 and FY21, respectively. Revenue mobilisation efforts will be negatively impacted by subdued domestic activity, while expenditures will increase to contain the spread of Covid-19 and support the economy.

"The fiscal deficit is expected to fall gradually to 6.0 per cent of GDP by FY22 as the impact of the crisis tapers-off."

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 13, 2020 at 10:15am

'Starving' #Bangladesh #garment workers protest for pay during #coronavirus #lockdown. BD apparel factories account for some 84% of its $40 billion export sector, which is facing a crisis after H&M, Walmart, Tesco and others cancelled orders- France 24

https://www.france24.com/en/20200413-starving-bangladesh-garment-wo...

Thousands of garment workers who produce items for top Western fast fashion brands protested against unpaid wages in Bangladesh's streets Monday, saying they were more afraid of starving than contracting coronavirus.

Bangladesh's apparel factories account for some 84 percent of the country's $40 billion export sector, which is facing its worst crisis in decades after retailers including H&M, Walmart and Tesco cancelled orders because of the pandemic.

Protesting workers say many factories have not paid them after the orders were cut.

Workers shouted slogans such as "we want our wages" and "break the black hands of the owners" as they blocked roads despite a nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of the deadly disease.

"We are afraid of the coronavirus. We heard a lot of people are dying of this disease," protesting worker Sajedul Islam, 21, told AFP.

"But we don't have any choice. We are starving. If we stay at home, we may save ourselves from the virus. But who will save us from starvation?"

The lockdown, which started on March 26, also forced the closure of the vast majority of the country's garment factories.

"We have not been paid for two months. We are starving," said another protester, who gave her name as Brishti, from the Tex Apparel factory in the capital Dhaka.

"If we don't have food in our stomach, what's the use of observing this lockdown?"

Some 5,500 workers protested on Monday while 20,000 turned out on Sunday, police inspector Islam Hossain told AFP.

"Some workers broke doors and glasses of a factory. But they were largely peaceful," Hossain told AFP. No one was arrested.

Bangladesh has announced $590 million in loans for export-oriented factories to pay workers.

The South Asian nation is the world's second-biggest garment maker after China, with $35 billion dollars of exports a year.

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