US for expanding economic relations outside the context of GSP

Staff Correspondent

The difference between Dhaka and Washington over the introduction of trade unions in the export processing zones as a pre-condition to restoration of generalised system of preference still persisted which could now threat the progress of the TICFA deal between Bangladesh and the US.
Dhaka insisted that the progress of trade and commerce between the two countries under TICFA will be ‘meaningless’ without restoring GSP.
It viewed that the US Trade Representative was too much rigid on the trade union issue in the EPZ despite Dhaka made alternative arrangements to address the issue.
Washington, however, said that both the countries should think more about expanding ‘economic relations outside the context of GSP’.
At a press conference in Dhaka on Wednesday, US assistant trade representative Michael J Delaney said his country wanted introduction of trade union in the country’s export processing zones, saying it was an element for restoring GSP.
The US scrapped the GSP facility for Bangladesh in June 2013, citing violation of labour rights after collapse of Rana Plaza that killed nearly 1,300 workers, mostly readymade garment labourers.
The TICFA deal was signed between the two countries in November 2013.
Dhaka has been expressing its inability to allow trade unions in the export processing zones.
Commerce minister Tofail Ahmed on Wednesday said the government had commitment to the investors not to introduce trade unions in the EPZ.
Even then, the government had introduced welfare associations in the EPZs, he said while talking to reporters after a meeting with Michael J Delaney at his secretariat office on the day.
He said Dhaka could not do anything more on the issue of trade union in the EPZ, either the US restored the GSP or not.
He, however, noted that Dhaka badly needed restoration of GSP to make the next meeting of the TICFA meaningful.
The next meeting of TICFA is likely to take place in November, he said
The cancellation of GSP did not directly affect Bangladesh’s main export, multi-billion-dollar clothing to the US, since garments are not eligible for duty cuts under the GSP.
But its cancellation tainted the country’s image globally.
Sixteen action plans on labour rights were fixed in 2013 for reinstating GSP under the ‘National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety and Structural Integrity’.
The United States has conducted three separate reviews since June 2013 of Bangladesh’s progress on implementing the Action Plan. These reviews recognised progress had been made on a number of the action items.
Michael J Delaney noted the goals of the action plans on GSP were important for the labour rights. ‘But we should also think more about expanding our economic relationship outside of the context of GSP,’ he added.
‘Bangladesh is not complying with the requirements’ on ensuring freedom of workers association, he said, adding that specific steps ‘are needed’ for ensuring the rights and safety standards of the workers, not only in the RMG sector, but also in other manufacturing sectors.
Registration of trade unions seemed to have slowed down as registration was denied, said Delaney.
He said he saw tremendous potentials for expanding US trade with and investment in Bangladesh and wanted to work together with Bangladesh to realize those potentials.
US ambassador Marcia Bernicat also spoke at the press conference.

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