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Dhaka seeks duty, quota-free access from Washington

Staff Correspondent
21 Apr 2024 21:56:45 | Update: 21 Apr 2024 21:56:45
Dhaka seeks duty, quota-free access from Washington
The delegations of the commerce ministry and the USTR at a Ticfa Council meeting at the ministry in Dhaka on Sunday – Courtesy Photo

Bangladesh has requested the United States to provide duty-free and quota-free market access for Bangladeshi apparel produced from US cotton to its market during a meeting of the Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (Ticfa) Council.

The meeting of the Ministry of Commerce with the delegation of the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) was held at the conference room of the ministry on Sunday.

Senior Secretary of Commerce Tapan Kanti Ghosh led the Bangladesh side and the USTR delegation was led by Brendan Lynch, assistant USTR for South and Central Asia. This is the first delegation from the US in Bangladesh after the 12th national election held back in January.

Saying that the African region enjoys the GSP facility but not Bangladesh, Tapan asked why the US did not provide the GSP facility to Bangladesh while it provides the facility to Africa. “If you provide us with the GSP facility, our garment workers will benefit.”

In response, Lynch said, “Bangladesh will have to improve the existing labour rights situation first.”

In Bangladesh, there have been some changes made in the labour laws in the past few years. The USTR delegation urged the government to provide documents detailing the changes in English.

The “Bangladesh Labour (Amendment) Bill 2023” was passed on November 2 last year in parliament, with a provision to increase maternity leave to 120 days from 112 days (16 weeks).

“We also requested them to provide access beyond apparel products. The products include home appliances, leather goods and medicine. If the US imports these goods from Bangladesh, our exports will be diversified and get a boost,” Tapan told reporters after the meeting.

“We also urged them to provide funds from the US International Development Finance Corporation and invest in our development initiatives and sought technological transfer support for our agricultural development,” he added.

At the meeting, the Bangladesh delegation shared that the government has taken meaningful actions to prevent and hold those responsible accountable for the acts of violence and harassment against union organisers, workers and legal protest activities, including the investigation, prosecution and issuing of appropriate penalties.

It also placed some changes regarding the labour issues including bringing the EPZs under the BLA to allow workers to form and join trade unions or extensively reforming the EPZ Labour Act to allow the formation of independent unions and eliminating excessive restrictions on the right to strike and severe penalties for illegal strikes.

After the Rana Plaza tragedy in April 2013, the US suspended Bangladesh's GSP facility. Dhaka signed the Ticfa agreement with the US in November of that year aiming to expand bilateral business and trade and to restore GSP facilities.

The US is the largest single-country export destination for Bangladesh, and the North American country occupies Bangladesh’s 10 per cent cotton market share with duty-free market access. But the US charges over 15 per cent duty for Bangladesh’s apparel.

BGMEA believes that if the US offers a duty-free market for clothes made with US cotton, it will be a win-win situation for everyone.

“We want to increase export to the US. If the country offers a duty-free market for US cotton products, the import of raw materials from the US will increase. We talked to them about this earlier as well,” said BGMEA Senior Vice President Khandoker Rafiqul Islam.