The Bangladesh delegation argued why the facilities that allow duty-free market access for some of its products should be retained.
The representatives of the American Federation of Labour-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) presented the case for revoking the facilities.
Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed led the Bangladesh delegation at the half-hour-long hearing.
The hearing over, delegation member and Jatiya Sramik League General Secretary Mohammad Sirajul Islam told bdnews24.com: “We presented the government measures taken to address the issues that were raised.”
“The USTR officials did not say anything specific after the hearing, but I think they were kind of assured by the measures taken by Bangladesh.”
“We are hopeful that the decision will go in our favour,” Islam said.
Deputy Chief of Mission and Minister at Bangladesh Embassy in Washington DC Muhammad A Muhith and Counselor (Commerce) Md Shafiqul Islam were attended the hearing.
Shafiqul Islam told bdnews24.com that a decision will come in June but he was optimistic too about retaining the facility.
AFL-CIO’s Policy Specialist for Trade and International Economics Celeste Drake led the arguments at the hearing.
The AFL-CIO inquired about such issues as whether the security measures are ensured in the garment factories, whether the labours had rights to form unions, whether the killers of worker leader Aminul Islam had been arrested and brought to justice and whether the workers are getting fair wage.
Sramik League leader Sirajul Islam said USTR was told that 141 labour unions had active role in the readymade garment units and about measures over the murder of Aminul Islam.
He said the measures to prevent fire accidents in the garment factories were also presented. “We also stressed the government’s sincerity in developing the conditions of the workers.”
The hearing was the final one on the influential AFL-CIO petition to the US government filed on Jun 22, 2007 to revoke Bangladesh’s GSP facility over concerns about labour conditions.
They demanded the cancellation of the facility alleging that there were inadequate protections for workers in the readymade garment factories and shrimp sectors.
The issues raised in the petition were constraints on workers’ ability to freely associate, harassment of labour organisers, refusal to register unions, firings of those seeking to create unions, and unsafe working conditions, among others.
The hearing on Thursday was held in two episodes. Celeste Drake addressed the hearing first, followed by the Bangladesh delegation.
The Bangladesh team also included Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) Executive Chairman KM Mominur Rahman, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer and Exporters Association (BGMEA) President Shafiul Islam Mohiudding, Bangladesh Shrimp and Fish Foundation Chairman Sayed Mahmudul Huq, Home Ministry Additional Secretary (Political) Kamal Uddin Ahmed and Labour and Employment Ministry Joint Secretary (Labour) Faizur Rahman.
The Office of the US Trade Representative where the AFL-CIO filed the ‘worker rights petition’ accepted it for review on Sep 6, 2007 and placed Bangladesh under continued review to monitor the progress towards a set of worker rights benchmarks elaborated later.
Earlier, Bangladesh participated at two hearings in October 2007 and October 2009. But the AFL-CIO again submitted a petition in April 2011 saying progress remained elusive and a third hearing was held in Jan 2012.
After the hearing, the USTR said that the GSP facility to Bangladesh remained under review.
The AFL-CIO submitted a petition in Oct 2012 again mentioning that Bangladesh has not fulfilled the commitments relating to labour issues after the last hearing held in Jan 2012.
The USTR issued a notification on Jan 8, 2013 seeking public comments on the effect of possible withdrawal, suspension or limitation of GSP benefits on products imported into the US from Bangladesh before Jan 31.
Bangladesh sent its written comments on Jan 29 about the measures taken for the garment units' safety and ensuring labour rights.
Bangladesh is the biggest single exporter to the US, but the main export product – readymade garment – does not enjoy the duty-free facility.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau, Bangladesh exported goods worth $24 billion to the US in 2011-12 fiscal, which is about 21 percent of the total exports and valued at around $5 billion.
In 2011, Bangladesh enjoyed the GSP facility for exporting products worth about $26.3 million. Items that enjoy the facility include tobacco products, sports gears, kitchen appliances and plastic products.