“This duty-free or quota free access would be available to a LDC nation through GSP,” the ambassador said as Washington prepares for the final hearing of a six year old petition to scrap Bangladesh from the GSP list.
The influential American Federation of Labour-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) petitioned the US Trade Representative (USTR) on Jun 22, 2007 to revoke Bangladesh’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) facility raising concerns on the poor condition of its labour.
A 14-member team led by Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed is in Washington now to plead Bangladesh’s case on Mar 28 before the USTR.
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 $5 billion to the US in 2011-12 fiscal, which is about 21 percent of the total exports valued at around $24 billion.
In 2011, Bangladesh enjoyed the GSP facility for exporting products worth about $26.3 million.
The ambassador said one might wonder why it matters since the amount is $26 million.
“It matters hugely for two reasons. The loss would send most negative message about Bangladesh as a trade partner around the world,” he said.
“And if Bangladesh has lost GSP privileges, Bangladesh would not be able to benefit from a positive conclusion in WTO talks when it will provide duty-free, quota-free access. That would be the worst that I can think of. I don’t want to see that happen,” he said.
The ambassador said Bangladesh had worked ‘very hard and very effectively’ in taking concrete measures to respond to concerns on its labour.
He suggested continuing those measures till mid-May as the review would be closed by ‘late May or first June.
The American labour umbrella, AFL-CIO, demanded the cancellation of the facility alleging that there were inadequate protections for workers in the readymade garment factories and shrimp processing units.
The issues raised in the petition were constraints on workers’ ability to freely associate, harassment of labour organisers, refusal to register unions, sacking of those seeking to create unions, and unsafe working conditions, among others.
They amended the petition in 2012 and 2013 .
Before leaving Dhaka on Mar 26, Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed told bdnews24.com that they were ‘optimistic’ about retaining the GSP facility as they were ‘well-prepared’ with Bangladesh’s case.
The delegation for the 28th hearing includes representatives from the Ministry of Fisheries, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Home, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, BGMEA, and BKMEA, among others.