Bangladesh officials have expressed concern over yesterday’s tragic apparel factory collapse in Savar that took place at a time when the country is negotiating with the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) issue to get an advantage in apparel exports to the US market.
The eight-storey building collapse left around 145 people dead and more than 1,000 were reported injured until this report was filed yesterday night.
The incident would stimulate fresh inquiries from the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) as a pre-condition before awarding Bangladesh the GSP, officials who are dealing with the issue apprehended.
“We will definitely have to face a series of fresh USTR questions about the factory’s collapse,” a senior official of commerce ministry said.
The ministry yesterday replied to a number of questions from the USTR to qualify for the GSP facilities that is considered to be helpful to avert export fall in the US market.
The official said: “The commerce ministry have sent a set of response to USTR’s 19 questions through fax and mail today.”
During the fourth round of hearing on GSP in Washington on March 28, the USTR wanted further details on a host of issues from Bangladesh.
“The killing case of Labour leader Aminul Islam is now treated as a sensational case and police is now hunting the main accused killer Mustafiz,” the official added.
The official said: “The ministry has complied with the USTR on labour standard issues with the government approval of the amended Labour Law.”
“We hope that yesterday’s garment factory incident in Savar will not affect the current USTR queries which decides the fate of the country’s US GSP facilities,” commerce secretary Mahbub Ahmed told the Dhaka Tribune yesterday over the phone.
He also informed that the commerce ministry will look into the matter after the investigation team submit a report to the concerned authorities of the government.
“We will answer the queries of USTR on the Savar garment factory tragedy if they send queries in the near future, he pointed out.
He also said: “The ministry would immediately call a meeting on compliance issues of garment factories.”
Meanwhile, the foreign ministry also echoed the concerns over the GSP facility issue in the US market.
“It is embarrassing that the tragic accident occurred on the day we are submitting our post-hearing submission on GSP to the USTR,” said an official of the foreign ministry.
The magnitude of the accident is huge and it might be of a concern for US buyers and the administration, he said.
“Foreign diplomats are asking about the incident and we hope to respond to them late at night or tomorrow when we will get a clear picture of the situation,” he added.
The safety concern, so far, was limited to fire incidents but now it would be expanded to building code compliance, the official added.
The fire safety became a big issue after the fire incident of Tazreen Fashion left 111 people dead last year in December.
A commerce ministry official said in the GSP hearing, the USTR mainly expressed fire safety concern and the government addressed it in the post-submission hearing.
“We hope to retain the GSP facility this time but the government will have to address the overall safety issue including building code to have a sustainable business prospect,” he said.
“Introduction of a ‘hotline’ for fire safety and other measures might satisfy the USTR this time but if the accidents with such magnitude occur every other month, it would be difficult for the government to negotiate with them,” the official added.