A US team is in Dhaka to talk to the government and industry representatives about the March hearing of a petition to strip Bangladesh from duty-free market access.
The US Department of Labour’s Acting Under Secretary for International Labour Affairs Eric Biel and International Economist Mike O’Donovan are visiting Bangladesh, according to the US embassy in Dhaka.
In a communication, it said they will “learn” about the progress made by the government and the industry in addressing “concerns outlined in the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) petition prior to the upcoming USTR (United States Trade Representative) hearing in March.”
The influential American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) appealed in October last year to revoke Bangladesh’s GSP facility in the wake of a factory fire that killed more than 100 workers.
The USTR took the matter into cognisance and Bangladesh was served a notice to defend itself in March against the allegation on Jan 31. Products with GSP get duty-free access.
According to the AFL-CIO, labour rights are not protected and fire-fighting system is not sufficient in Bangladesh’s garment and shrimp sectors and at the Export Processing Zones.
This is the third time such a petition to strip Bangladesh of its duty-free market access has been filed since Bangladesh secured the facility in 2007.
Bangladesh managed to retain the facility on two previous occasions.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, this time, Bangladesh is also preparing to make its case in the Congress that is expected to hear the petition in March.
Bangladesh is the biggest exporter to the US as a single country. But the main export product to the US, the 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 export 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, sport gears, kitchen appliances, and plastic products.
A four-member US Congressional delegation led by Jack Kingston during their meeting with the Foreign Minister, Dipu Moni in Dhaka on Jan 27 advised Bangladesh to appoint ‘lobbyist’ to retain duty-free access of its products to the US market.