Look beyond WTO for post-LDC benefits: official

Monique Van Daalen, chairperson of the WTO sub-committee on LDCs; Rehman Sobhan, chairman of CPD, and Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow, attend a discussion, at Brac Centre Inn in Dhaka yesterday. Photo: COLLECTED

Bangladesh needs to work with some alternative organisations of World Trade Organization (WTO) to continue enjoying trade privileges once its status graduates to a developing country from a least developed one, said a top WTO official yesterday.

Bangladesh’s status is scheduled to finally graduate in 2027 when it would lose trade privileges and face duties on export. 

Monique Van Daalen, chairperson of the WTO sub-committee on least developed countries (LDCs), suggested that Bangladesh can look forward to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) for SDGs to find new opportunities beyond WTO.

She was addressing a discussion on “Current Debates at the WTO and the LDC Concerns” organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) at Brac Centre Inn in Dhaka.

The UNCTAD is a part of the United Nations Secretariat dealing with trade, investment, and development issues. The EIF is the only multilateral partnership dedicated to assisting LDCs.

The value of the LDC exports of goods and services increased by 13 percent in 2018, reaching $239 billion, said Daalen, adding that the growth was faster than that of world exports, which increased by 10 percent.

But the LDCs’ share in world exports of goods, and services remains insignificant at only 0.95 percent in 2018. 

The LDCs therefore remain far from the target of the Istanbul Programme of Action as well as the 2030 Agenda to double their export share to around 2 percent by 2020.

Since trade growth was even stronger on the import side, the trade deficit of the LDCs continued to increase, from $93 billion in 2017 to $103 billion in 2018. This is more than three times higher than the deficit in 2010.

“So while there has been an upward trend in LDC trade in the last two years, it is clear that further efforts are needed to strengthen your productive capacity in manufacturing and services, to diversify your export base and to further enhance your market access,” she added.

“I should recognise that LDCs in Asia have done relatively well compared to other LDCs. Furthermore, during the last meeting of the sub-committee, the EU presented on the latest evaluation of the Everything-But-Arms (EBA) system of preference. Here, we saw that Bangladesh in particular profits from this scheme,” she also said.

“However, looking forward to graduation, it will be important to further diversify your export base and look for strategies to ensure that your exports are not disturbed because of the loss of trade preferences,” she said.

Bangladesh has highly benefited from the European Union’s EBA being an LDC, “but we did not get that privilege from the US”, said Rehman Sobhan, chairman of the CPD.

Bangladesh was exclusively excluded from the benefit of blind Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) in the US. However, Bangladesh benefited from the scrapping of the mega-trade Trans-Pacific Partnership deal by the current US president.

Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said prices of garment items were not increasing and there was a constant price pressure from the retailers and brands.

She said the garment sector has been suffering from an image deficit. “Product diversification, that’s an area that’s going to be a real challenge for us,” Huq said. 

“The value addition is still a challenge, product diversification is still a challenge while the value addition has seen some kind of light, yet we are a long way from that. So that’s an issue,” Huq said.

She sought an extended timeframe of the EBA in the EU through the launching of bilateral negotiations for some emerging issues involving women workers, the population, cost of business and infrastructure bottlenecks.

Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the CPD, said Bangladesh needs to devise its strategies for negotiations keeping in mind that it still was an LDC in the course of graduation and would become a developing country soon.

“What types of incentives can be achieved once the country graduates?” 

There should be a large number of packages of incentives for a good number of LDCs which will graduate to become developing countries soon, he said. 

For example, the EU extended three additional years for graduated LDCs. He suggested for extension of the TRIPs and pharmaceuticals for the graduated LDCs. 

Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow at the CPD, moderated the discussion which was participated by government high-ups, garment exporters, WTO officials, researchers and diplomats.



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