Can Ticfa deliver favourably for Bangladesh?

The first meeting of Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (Ticfa) between Bangladesh and the United States is scheduled to be held in Dhaka on April 28. This will take place against the backdrop of the long-drawn controversies prior to the signing of the agreement and the developments that took place during the last one and a half years including the suspension of preferential trade benefits enjoyed by Bangladesh under the US GSP (generalised system of preferences) in June 2013. As such, this meeting is being viewed by concerned quarters as not just a routine affair but one that is critically linked to the future of bilateral trade relations between Dhaka and Washington.

The reality that the meeting will signify, if not determine, how things would look like in the days ahead must not be ruled out. Supporters of Ticfa, before it got inked in November 2013 despite protests at home, were keen to see it as a forum that would provide Bangladesh with a structured platform for discussing trade, investment and related areas of cooperation with the US. And now ahead of the maiden meeting, they look to it a bit more precisely in that it is expected that it would help address some of the burning issues such as restoration of GSP and facilitation of market access. It is here that the stake weighs heavy for Bangladesh.

Issues likely to figure in the meeting will reportedly include review of bilateral trade and investment matters, market access for Bangladesh products (in line with the Bali Ministerial of the World Trade Organisation or WTO), review of the GSP Action Plan and developments in labour affairs, establishing a labour affairs committee, and establishing working group on women empowerment. Bangladesh delegates will try to assure their US counterparts as regards improvements in labour rights and workplace safety, among others, on the basis of the actions taken following GSP suspension. As for the unfinished actions or those just initiated, the Bangladesh side, understandably, will demonstrate the sincerity of the government in remaining engaged to fulfill all the required actions for improving workers’ rights and workplace safety. The government, in the meantime, has sent its submission to the USTR (United States Trade Representative) incorporating the status of works in line with the action plan. The tripartite action plan adopted by the government encapsulates the US action plan as well as those suggested by the North American and European retailers. It may be recalled that the USTR had outlined 16 conditions in the Bangladesh Action Plan. Much of the deliberations in the meeting will centre on evaluating progress towards implementation of the action plan.

The GSP issue, given its importance and the hype it has received from the media, is for Bangladesh the key focus of the Ticfa meeting. Although reconsidering the issue is the prerogative of the USTR, discussing the matter across the table would surely facilitate higher level of understanding, hopefully to the benefit of Bangladesh.

Source: Financial Express

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