Much progress in GSP efforts, Tofail says
Bangladesh has made substantial progresses in fulfilling 13 of the 16 conditions tagged by the US authorities to win back a trade privilege from the North American nation, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed said yesterday.
The rest three conditions are about the appointment of 200 inspectors, allowing trade unionism in the export processing zones and looking into allegations of torture on workers in 19 factories.
The government will soon appoint the 200 inspectors through prime minister's administrative order.
The issue will be discussed with the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the labour and employment ministry, he said at a press briefing at his ministry office in Dhaka.
The minister said the inspectors must be appointed by April-May to get back the generalised system of preferences (GSP) from the US. “But according to local rules they have to be appointed through the PSC. That will take at least two years.”
“We will talk to the PSC about the cabinet's decision. The labour ministry will take initiatives in this regard. There is scope for appointing them through prime minister's administrative order,” Ahmed said.
Following the Rana Plaza collapse last April, the US suspended Bangladesh's GSP status citing serious shortcomings in safety standards and workers' rights in its factories.
At the same time, the US also gave an action plan as the roadmap saying Bangladesh would get back the status if it fulfils 16 conditions including improving work environment in factories. The US is supposed to review the status in May.
Though the trade privilege covers only 0.54 percent of Bangladesh's total exports to the US, regaining the GSP is important for the country as the EU may also be influenced by the US decision. Bangladesh also signed a Sustainability Compact with the EU involving the International Labour Organisation to fulfil the 16 conditions.
Currently, Bangladesh enjoys a 12.5 percent duty benefit for the EU market, country's largest export destination where 60 percent goods go annually under the GSP scheme.
Earlier at the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina instructed the commerce ministry whether garments factory inspectors could be appointed from the BCS exam finalists who have not got cadre positions. The weekly cabinet meeting discussed progress in improving labour and factory standards and appointment of additional 200 factory inspectors.
“The prime minister discussed how the country's economy can be made vibrant. Other issues include retaining the GSP benefit and river dredging,” Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury told The Daily Star.
The cabinet also approved a proposal to sign an agreement for exemption of visa requirements for the officials and diplomatic passport holders of Brazil and Bangladesh.
Briefing reporters, Cabinet Secretary M Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said the visa exemption agreement would strengthen bilateral and economic relations between the two countries.
The cabinet also approved a proposal for ratifying the visa exemption facility between Bangladesh and Cambodia for officials and diplomatic passport holders.
Bangladesh now has visa waiver agreements with 12 countries and discussion is going on with 11 other counties for such agreement, said the cabinet secretary.