For GSP status to be restored, Bangladesh needs to make progress in workers’ safety, freedom of association, and protection of labour leaders from violent reprisals, the Trump administration has told the Congress.
In its trade policy agenda and annual report to Congress, US Trade Representative (USTR) said the government has continued to monitor development in Bangladesh.
“Although Bangladesh has made some progress on these issues, especially with respect to workplace safety, more progress is necessary before GSP benefits can be restored, particularly with respect to freedom of association, including cumbersome union registration requirements and the protection of labor leaders from violent reprisals,” USTR said.
The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) is a US trade program designed to promote economic growth in the developing world by providing preferential duty-free entry for up to 4,800 products from 129 designated beneficiary countries and territories.
The US suspended GSP for Bangladesh in 2013, shortly after the Rana Plaza collapse that killed over 1,100 people, mostly garment workers, putting into spotlight the poor safety conditions at the factories.
Barack Obama, the then US president, had said in a statement that he “determined that it is appropriate to suspend Bangladesh … because it is not taking steps to afford internationally recognized worker rights to workers in the country.”
Bangladesh’s garments products exported to the US were not covered under the facility.
The USTR has worked with Bangladesh to improve addressing US concerns.
The USTR has annually led senior delegations to Bangladesh to assess the status of efforts to address workers’ rights and safety issues. It also led the US delegation to a meeting of the Sustainability Compact in 2017, which includes Bangladesh, Canada, the European Union, and the International Labour Organization.
In June last year, Bangladesh made specific and public commitments to afford greater rights of association in the country’s export processing zones and to better provide internationally recognized worker rights.
“However, at the end of the year, the government of Bangladesh had not advanced any legislative reforms,” the USTR said.
In May 2017, representatives of the two countries met in Dhaka under the US-Bangladesh Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (TICFA).
The TICFA provides a mechanism for both governments to discuss trade and investment issues and areas of cooperation, and provides an additional opportunity for the US government to exchange views on Bangladeshi efforts to improve workers’ safety and rights.
“USTR will continue its efforts to strengthen respect for workers’ rights in Bangladesh and address market access and other trade barriers through the TICFA,” the report said.
Additionally, the US Department of State, the Department of Labor, and USAID will continue to implement technical assistance projects aimed at addressing the concerns that led to GSP suspension.
The USTR will coordinate efforts to convene a meeting of the Sustainability Compact and work with Bangladesh, Canada, and EU, ILO, and multi-stakeholder initiatives, such as the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (the Alliance) and the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety (the Accord).
“The Alliance will terminate its present operations in Bangladesh in June 2018 but is in the process of setting up a successor initiative. USTR will carefully monitor the transition to the new initiative and its implementation,” the USTR said.
This article was first published on banglatribune.com