Garment products made with cotton produced from the US should be provided duty-free access to the American market, said Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen yesterday.
The US already provides the facility through agreements with sub-Saharan African and Caribbean countries under an African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Caribbean Initiative, he said during the monthly luncheon meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh (AmCham) at The Westin Dhaka.
The theme of the meeting, which Momen attended as the guest of honour, was strengthening Bangladesh-US economic relationship.
On an average, the US charges 15.6 per cent import duty on Bangladeshi products, which tend to be largely garment.
"This is unfortunate for a least-developed country like Bangladesh as products imported from France, a developed nation, face only 0.5 per cent duty," Momen said, adding that the goods should also not be required to face further testing at the Bangladesh port.
The US is the single biggest export destination for Bangladeshi products. The country recorded earnings of $6.9 billion from exports to America in fiscal 2018-19.
Bangladesh's apparel shipments to the US edged up in 2019 -- a heartening development given the inclement condition on the export front.
Between the months of July and December last year, Bangladesh's apparel shipments fell 6.21 percent to $16.02 billion, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.
But exports to the US fetched $5.69 billion, up 9.47 percent from a year earlier, according to data from the Office of Textiles and Apparel.
Momen also called for diversification of the export basket: some 84 per cent of exports earnings come from the apparel sector.
"Overdependence on one sector is not good. So we must go for product diversification."
At the same time exports must be increased. "For this we are urging foreign investment."
The Chinese are very much interested in making investments.
"However, we are progressing slowly in matters involving them," he said, while inviting investments from the EU, the UK, the US and other countries.
To make the country more inviting to foreign investors, the government is working to hack away bureaucratic complexities.
American foreign direct investment (FDI) in Bangladesh amounts to more than $3.5 billion, making it one of the largest single-state investors in the country.
"The relationship between the two countries is not as strong as it could be but I hope that in the future, our trade relations will be much better," Momen said.
He urged American companies to make more FDIs in Bangladesh to help the country achieve its development goals and become a developed country by 2041.
The rate of returns on investments in Bangladesh are high and following the Rana Plaza collapse, labour standards and safety and security measures have all been improved.
"America's strength is not their weapon arsenal but rather their fair justice system and human rights values."
The foreign minister also expressed frustration over the Rohingya issue, saying that the global outcry on the violation of human rights was not of the magnitude it should have been due to various influencing factors.
The world economy is gradually shifting to a knowledge-based economy and Bangladesh is no exception, said Syed Ershad Ahmed, president of the AmCham.
Therefore, it is crucial to focus on getting more FDIs in technology-based industries and services instead of remaining heavily reliant on labour.
"It is time to focus on research and development for product diversification amid growing challenges."
Although Bangladesh faced a lot of global challenges in 2019, higher agricultural output and remittance growth allowed it to overcome those challenges, he said.
Strong remittance inflow and foreign financing of development projects have been able to keep the country's external account healthy and the balance of payment account in surplus.
Bangladesh's current economic growth is higher than that of many other Asian countries that are supported by FDIs, according to Ahmed, also the country manager of Expeditors, a global logistics company headquartered in Seattle, Washington.
However, to cope with global competition and the new challenges, it is imperative to attract more investment in diversified sectors.
A better trade partnership between Bangladesh and the US for economic development would turn out to be a win-win situation.
"More cooperation between the US and Bangladesh may attract more investment in infrastructure development including ports, roads and transport. I repeat, attention should be given on knowledge based high-tech products," he added.
AmCham Vice-President Syed Mohammd Kamal, US Counsellor for Political and Economic Affairs to Bangladesh Brent T Christensen, businesspeople and current and former diplomats attended the programme.