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Dhaka Tribune

USTR-BGMEA meeting focuses workers’ rights and bilateral trade issues

This high-level engagement aimed to discuss critical issues surrounding bilateral trade and policies including workers' rights, well-being, and market access matters

Update : 22 Apr 2024, 07:58 PM

The meeting with a delegation of the US Trade Representative (USTR) and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) on Monday focused on exercising labour rights, freedom of trade union formation, and ensuring fair prices. 

According to the sources from the BGMEA, Brendan Lynch, assistant USTR for South and Central Asia, led the USTR delegate where BGMEA President SM Mannan Kochi represented the domestic apparel industry.

The participants of the meeting said that the USTR delegates appreciated the progress Bangladesh made in a few areas like the labour rights sector.

This high-level engagement aimed to discuss critical issues surrounding bilateral trade and policies including workers' rights, well-being, and market access matters. 

The USTR delegates also said that there is room for improvement in the places like amendments to the Bangladesh Labour Act (BLA).

Regarding the meeting, Shovon Islam, director of the BGMEA told Dhaka Tribune that the attitude of the USTR delegates in today's meeting was very positive.

“We don’t say that all our activities have fulfilled their demands, but they have expressed satisfaction with our progress. We have been working on the formation of trade unions for a long time, they have suggested simplifying the process of forming it,” he added.

He also said that in the recent draft of the BLA, they made significant changes as per the International Labour Organization (ILO), EU and USA’s recommendations. 

However, they further suggested that there are still scopes for the amendments of the Bangladesh Labour Act and Bangladeshi manufacturers reconsider it.

“Violence in the industry is decreasing, and they support this process,” he added.

Regarding the fair price, he said that they also presented the issue of fair price at today’s meeting.

“The delegates said that they discussed it with the brands and buyers. We need to continue working on enhancing our global image. Creating a positive perception globally will accelerate the fair price issues,” he added. 

He also said that they guide them in various matters regarding labour rights and bilateral trade issues. A positive labour condition is a must in getting GSP.

The meeting highlighted the importance of collaboration and engagement towards making the RMG industry more sustainable, said the participants.

At the meeting, BGMEA President SM Mannan (Kochi) shared updates on the significant progress made by the ready-made garment industry regarding workplace safety, workers' rights, and ongoing labour law reforms in Bangladesh. 

He also said that they are committed to the ongoing efforts of the government of Bangladesh and the industry to make further progress in workers' rights and welfare issues.

He also sought the support and collaboration of the US government to ensure a fair minimum price of apparel and a unified code of conduct for social audits. 

He also demanded the US government reinstate GSP in favour of Bangladesh and include garment items in its GSP program. 

Meanwhile, BGMEA is repeatedly urging duty-free access to the US as the USA is seeking a cotton market, and they want to increase exports to the USA. If the country offers them a duty-free market for the products made of US cotton, the raw materials imports from the country will increase as well.

Emily Ashby, USTR director for South and Central Asia, and Jennifer Oetken, USTR director for Labor Affairs were also present at this closed-door meeting along with Joseph Giblin, economic unit chief, and Leena Khan, labor attaché at the US Embassy in Dhaka.

BGMEA Senior Vice-President Khandoker Rafiqul Islam, Vice-President (Finance) Md Nasir Uddin, Vice-President Abdullah Hil Rakib, Directors Asif Ashraf, Shovon Islam, Mohammad Sohel Sadat, Md Ashikur Rahman (Tuhin), Shams Mahmud, Nusrat Bari Asha, and Chair of BGMEA Standing Committee on ILO and Labour Affairs ANM Saifuddin were also present.

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