Tofail Ahmed has said he hopes the US will revive special trade benefits for Bangladesh soon since the country has made significant progress in ensuring labour rights and fair working conditions in factories.The commerce minister sees the GSP facility as a “matter of prestige” for Bangladesh.“GSP has a reputational impact [for Bangladesh],” US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat told reporters at a joint media briefing with the minister on Tuesday.Tofail voiced his agreement with her.“It is as she has said,” he noted. “It’s not about money but about our image.”The US suspended Bangladesh’s trade benefits on June 27, 2013 after the Rana Plaza collapse in Savar, bringing into focus the poor safety standards in the country’s garments factories.Bangladesh’s main export item, readymade garment products are not covered under the facility.“Even without the GSP facility, we’ve exported goods worth about $2 billion to the US during the July-October period,” the commerce minister said. “There has been a 17 percent growth.”In the 2014-15 fiscal year, Bangladesh’s exports to the US amounted to $ 5.8 billion.Since the Rana Plaza collapse, which left over 1,100 workers killed, Bangladesh’s industries have become ‘compliance industries’, the minister said at the briefing.
The US ambassador has visited some of the industrial areas, Tofail said, and has been satisfied with the conditions prevailing there.Tofail stressed the fact that the success of TICFA “depends on getting back the GSP facility” and that Bangladesh will place “the highest emphasis” on the matter.“I hope the US will withdraw the suspension on GSP after the TICFA meeting,” the minister added.Asked if the TICFA was valueless without the GSP, Bernicat said, “I couldn’t disagree more.First of all, only 1 percent of Bangladesh trade benefited from GSP in 2013 when it was suspended. Many of the products [that]will benefit from GSP are not yet either being produced here or being exported to US,” she said.”So why would we not talk about all of the different things involved in our business relationship—foreign direct investment, blue economy, the regional connectivity?” she asked.
Bernicat explained the process of extending GSP facilities to certain countries.She said the process included a mechanism that allowed complaints about the conditions or the eligibility of the country to be heard.The American envoy said Bangladesh had addressed the issues about workers rights and safety. “There were negotiations between two governments over the years,” she said.“When the collapse of Rana Plaza came as well as the fire of Tazreen three years before, those concerns rose to the surface again,” Bernicat said.She also said US officials were working to ensure those concerns were addressed so that the GSP privilege could be restored.
“I am absolutely confident that Bangladesh will be able to regain eligibility,” she said.The formulation of labour rules was an important component, Bernicat added.She said the document was being translated into English and studied and other issues were also being examined.”Almost all factories have been inspected—not all have been inspected—and many factories have things to do based on the findings of inspection to make safer environment. There is also workers rights issue as well,” she said.