(Adds comment, growth)
DHAKA, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Bangladesh's exports rose 18.81 percent in January, gaining for a seventh straight month from a year earlier thanks to improved garment sales, the Export Promotion Bureau said on Monday.
From March through June, Bangladesh's monthly exports fell year on year as the global slowdown weighed on demand. But overseas sales have since picked up, with a 8.83 percent rise in the July-January period, bureau data showed.
Exports in the first seven months of Bangladesh's July-June financial year totalled $15.15 billion compared with $13.92 billion over the same period of last year.
In January, exports of ready-made garments rose almost 23 percent to $2.09 billion from $1.70 billion in the same month of 2012. For the seven months ended in January, garment exports totalled $12.04 billion, 9.9 percent more than a year earlier.
In recent years, Bangladesh's economy and exports have been boosted by a dramatic shift in global garment orders from China to lower-cost Bangladesh.
The government set an export target of $28 billion for the current fiscal year, up from last year's total earnings of $24.3 billion.
"We are hopeful of achieving the target if the current trend of growth continues," bureau head Shubhashish Bose said.
Garment orders had been rising from new markets such as Japan, Russia and South Africa, he added.
Garments account for 80 percent of Bangladesh's exports. The industry employs 3.6 million people and more than four times that number are dependent on the sector for their livelihoods.
The garments trade has been in the spotlight since a factory fire that killed at least 112 people in November. Working conditions in the factories are notoriously poor, with little enforcement of safety laws. Overcrowding and locked fire doors are not uncommon.
The central bank cut its key policy rates this month for the first time since 2009, by half a percentage point, as it shifted its focus to encouraging growth.
The central bank cut its growth forecast for the current fiscal year to 6.4 percent, down from 7.2 percent targeted earlier. (Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Nick Macfie)