Bangladesh did not gain much from the 10th ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation in Kenya as global leaders failed to reach a consensus on key deals, analysts said yesterday.
The leaders failed to agree on a deal, among others, that would have extended meaningful duty-free access to goods from poor nations to developing and developed ones.
While the least-developed countries like Bangladesh currently enjoy duty-free access for 97 percent of its goods thanks to a consensus reached at the fifth ministerial meet in Hong Kong, it is not turning out to be very beneficial for them.
The reason is, many countries are leaving out the major export items of the LDCs from the list of products that qualify for duty-free access.
For instance, Bangladesh's main export item, garment, does not qualify for duty-free access to the US, its major shipping destination.
But African LDCs, for whom garment is not a major export item, enjoy duty-free access to the US.
Bangladesh tried to raise this issue at the WTO conference in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi but did not get any support from the African LDCs, said Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, at a press briefing at the Brac Centre Inn in Dhaka.
The CPD research team also joined the Bangladeshi delegation in Nairobi for the four-day WTO meeting that came to an end on December 19.
The think-tank organised the press conference to deliver its formal reaction on the recently concluded WTO meeting.
Rather, the developed countries agreed to suspend subsidies on cotton so that four African countries can benefit from cotton trade worldwide, he said. “Here, I want to say, in future, the cotton price might go up globally, as the developed countries' decision of suspension of subsidies will come into effect soon.”
In this case, Bangladesh will have to import cotton at higher prices, as the country is poised to be the highest cotton importer this season, surpassing China.
The world leaders also could not advance the discussion on the waiver in services to a satisfactory level at the meeting, he said.
“In this case too, the discussion remained unfinished and again the LDCs lost the opportunity.”
The world leaders also could not show any good progress in ratifying the Trade Facilitation Agreement that was adopted at the ninth WTO ministerial conference in Indonesia in 2013.
“Finally, I will say the discussion at the WTO was not inclusive, as some major players such as India, Brazil, China, the EU and the US discussed exclusively in the meeting.”
Rahman now advised the government to find ways to sign agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, through which it can get duty-free access for its garment products.
Echoing the views of Rahman, Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow of the CPD, also suggested the government devise a strong trade strategy so that the country can be more competitive in the changed global scenario.
Bangladesh will have to consider three important issues while formulating the strategies, Bhattacharya said.
They are: continuing the leadership of the LDC group in the WTO, joining bilateral and multilateral trade agreements like the EU and the TPP, and playing strong roles in the regional and sub-regional trade deals like the South Asian Free Trade Area.
“Bangladesh should strengthen the research as many things are happening and will happen in the repositioning of the global scenario like unstable global security challenge and climate change impacts,” Bhattacharya said.
The global leaders though managed to strike a deal on the relaxation of rules of origin of products, which will be beneficial for LDCs. Rules of origin are the criteria needed to determine the national source of a product.
From now, LDCs will enjoy duty-free access if only 25 percent value is added in their respective countries, even if the raw materials were sourced from other countries, Rahman said.
In other words, a product will qualify as “made in an LDC” even if manufacturers use imported materials up to 75 percent of the final value of the product.