The European Union yesterday advised Bangladesh to improve labour standards, security, democracy, environment standards and freedom of expression to qualify for the GSP Plus status.
The suggestion came at a meeting between Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed and Bernd Lange, chair of the International Trade Committee of the European Parliament, at the state guesthouse Meghna in Dhaka.
“This (GSP Plus) is of course really related to the question of freedom of expression, democratic development and security,” Lange said at a media briefing after the meeting.
“So, we have to prepare for that even now because process is going on and time is limited.”
He also suggested Bangladesh focus on fulfilling the requirement as early as possible, so that the EU agrees to award the GSP Plus soon.
Bangladesh is on track to receiving the GSP Plus status from the European Union when it graduates to the developing country bracket in 2021.
As a least-developed country Bangladesh has been enjoying zero-duty benefit to the EU under its Everything but Arms scheme since 1971. But once it becomes a developing country, Bangladesh will no longer be eligible for the privilege.
The GSP Plus scheme will be applicable for Bangladesh then, for which the country will have to fulfil some conditions. Strengthening workplace safety, improved labour rights, saving the environment and reduction of corruption are some of the major conditions for receiving the GSP Plus status from the EU.
A 14-member delegation of the International Trade Committee of the European Parliament, headed by Lange, came to Bangladesh to review the compliance status of the garment factories under the Sustainability Compact.
Bangladesh signed the Sustainability Compact with the EU in September 2013 committing to responsible business behaviour.
The delegation has visited factories to see the labour rights situation and workplace safety. They are optimistic that Bangladesh will qualify for the GSP Plus status as the country improved a lot in workplace safety and labour rights after the Rana Plaza building collapse.
Rana Plaza was a wakeup call for Bangladesh, according to Lange.
After Rana Plaza, the government amended the labour law and signed the agreement with Accord and Alliance to inspect the factories and improve working conditions, he added.
“I have to say Bangladesh has done the best among the LDCs economically. That means that the EU has to establish a new trade relation with Bangladesh. GSP Plus is on the horizon.”
The trade agreement is linked to clear value-based trade relations, not only looking on customs growth rate, but looking on trade related value because it is a clear message of the EU parliament, he added.
The trade is no end in itself; it has to be an instrument to improve the living conditions in society on both sides of the partnership, not just on one side, Lange said.