DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh may have missed $3 billion worth of potential new business in readymade garments this year as buyers shifted to other countries or held back orders while it battled strikes and political violence, the head of a trade body said on Tuesday.
The country has been rocked by protests and counter-protests since January, when a tribunal set up by the government to investigate abuses during the war of independence against Pakistan began convicting leaders of an Islamist party.
At least 100 people have died in clashes and business confidence has been rattled.
"At least $500 million worth of garment orders have been diverted to our next-door neighbour India since January," said Muhammad Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).
"We may also have received up to 40 percent less orders from our foreign customers," he told a news conference.
On Tuesday, much of the country was again shut down in response to a 36-hour strike called by the opposition which accuses the government of using the war crimes tribunal to persecute them.
Islam said the slowdown in the developed markets of the United States and Europe was already hurting Bangladesh's exports of garments and business leaders were trying to find alternative markets.
"We were exploring new markets in countries like Russia, Brazil, Japan, Chile, Argentina, India, China and South Africa," he said.
"New buyers from those countries had just started to come in to explore our country ... but left without placing any orders due to political violence and unrest," Islam said.
Vietnam and Cambodia had picked up orders in recent days, he said.
Shipments of goods had been disrupted because of the strikes, prompting threats by foreign buyers to cancel orders.
Garments account for more than 80 percent of Bangladesh's annual export income and employ more than four million people, mostly women.
Reporting By Serajul Quadir; Editing by Anis Ahmed and Sanjeev Miglani