USTR claims not based on facts: Tofail

Staff Correspondent

The commerce minister, Tofail Ahmed, on Thursday said the statement of the US Trade Representative that the government of Bangladesh had not implemented substantial parts of the GSP action plan was unjustified and not based on facts.
‘The actual situation of the readymade garment sector in Bangladesh was not reflected in the statement of the USTR as the labour condition in Bangladesh has made a significant improvement and we have implemented almost all conditions of GSP action plan,’ the commerce minister told New Age.
Tofail alleged that in association with some non-governmental organisations, a few trade union leaders were
providing international community with false information about the labour condition in Bangladesh.
The USTR on Wednesday expressed its concern over non-implementation of significant parts of the action plan provided by the administration of president Barak Obama last year as conditions for restoring the facilities under the Generalised System of Preferences.
An interagency review led by the Office of the USTR concluded that Bangladesh needed to develop a credible and effective mechanism for responding to and addressing allegations of unfair labour practices.
‘Since the suspension of GSP, the government has also not advanced the labour law reforms called for in the action plan, including changes to ensure that workers are afforded the same rights and protections in Export Processing Zones as in the rest of the country,’ the USTR said.
Tofail, however, said that the government had made the highest efforts to fulfil the conditions set in the GSP action plan and there was no reason why the facilities should not be restored if the congress resumed the programme.
‘… we remain concerned about the large number of factories that have yet to be inspected, the lack of progress on needed labour
law reforms, and continuing reports of harassment of and violence against labour activists who are attempting to exercise their
rights,’ The US Trade Representative, Michael Froman said.
‘If the situation [raising allegations] continues, the implementation of TICFA deal might face challenge,’ he said.
Replying to a question, the commerce minister said that Bangladesh had no plan to write to the US administration about the allegations raised by the congressmen and USTR.
The USTR review stated slow response of the government to continuing reports of harassment and violence against labour activists.
The review found that the government was still behind the schedule in carrying out safety inspections in garment factories and recruiting additional factory inspectors.
The review was conducted by the USTR-chaired GSP subcommittee of the interagency Trade Policy Staff Committee, which includes representatives of the departments of state, labour, commerce, agriculture and the treasury, as well as USAID.
The GSP subcommittee hopes to carry out its next review of Bangladesh’s progress on the GSP action plan in December 2014.
‘The Obama administration has been engaging the Bangladesh government and stakeholders over the past year to press for changes to address the worker rights and worker safety issues that led to the president’s decision to suspend GSP trade benefits,’ USTR said.
Ahead of the one year anniversary of the EU Sustainability Compact, the US government notes Bangladesh’s progress towards fulfilment of some of the commitments in the agreement and welcomes continued positive collaboration between all signatories in support of Bangladesh’s adoption of international standards in worker rights and safety,’ the USTR said.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, however, differed with the findings of the review that the government of Bangladesh had not yet implemented substantial parts of the action plan.
A number of substantial issues of the action plan have been implemented, including amendment to the labour law and registration of trade unions, the BGMEA vice-president Shahidullah Azim said.
He claimed that out of the 16 conditions set in the action plan, 14 had so far been implemented and the rest two were progressing and it would take some time to implement those.
The US government on June 27, 2013 suspended the GSP for Bangladesh due to an insufficient improvement in worker rights conditions.
The US on July 19, 2013 gave Bangladesh the 16-point action plan as conditions for restoring GSP facilities.

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