The government is set to drastically cut duties on safety equipment imports to make them more affordable to garment makers, as they are under pressure to improve workplace standards following Tazreen Fire and Rana Plaza disasters.
The National Board of Revenue (NBR) is now in the final stages of cutting the duties on the safety equipment, Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed said.
The duty on imports of the safety equipment was one of the key issues the US raised at the inaugural meeting of the Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (Ticfa) that concluded yesterday.
"We have decided to reduce the duties. Different forums inside the country have also made similar requests," Ahmed said at a press briefing after the daylong meeting.
An NBR official said an order on the issue might be sent out this week.
At present, Bangladesh on an average imposes 154 percent duties on the imports of fire equipment such as fire doors, emergency lights and sprinklers. It will be brought down to 15 percent, the official said. The 15 percent duties will be in the form of value-added tax.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith has already consented to the decision, and the law ministry is now vetting the issue.
Michael J Delaney, assistant trade representative of the US for South Asia, welcomed the decision immediately.
"I am extremely gratified to know that. This is what the government can do. This will help facilitate to improve the conditions of the factories."
Earlier this month, six associations of US and Canadian retailers urged the prime minister to immediately withdraw the high duties on import of essential safety equipment that can undermine the current efforts to improve worker safety.
Garment makers say high duties deter factory owners from making the necessary investment to improve worker safety.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association also sent letters to the finance and commerce ministries and the NBR seeking zero-duty on import of such equipment.