Bangladesh to attend hearing in Washington to retain GSP
Bangladesh will attend a hearing in the United States next month to retain preferential market access and fight allegations over labour standards and use of child workers.
At the hearing at the United States Trade Representatives (USTR) in Washington on January 24, government officials will demand the continuation of the generalised system of preferences (GSP).
The move came after a rights group appealed to the US body for cancellation of the facility on the ground of labour standards and child labour.
Officials from commerce, labour and employment and foreign ministries and garment exporters' bodies will attend the hearing to fight complaints lodged by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO).
“This will be the third hearing of Bangladesh at the USTR,” said a senior official of the commerce ministry.
Bangladesh attended the USTR hearing in 2007 and 2009 for retaining the GSP facility.
The GSP provides preferential duty-free entry for about 4,800 products from 129 designated beneficiary countries and territories, including Bangladesh. But Bangladesh does not benefit much from the GSP as there are no apparel products on the products' list.
The US government agreed to grant a 97 percent duty-free facility to the least developed countries at the Hong Kong ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation in 2005.
But major export items, such as garments, leather goods and footwear, were not included in the list. As a result, Bangladesh is doing business with the US by paying a 17 percent duty on an average and the highest duty of 32 percent on man-made fibre clothes.
On September 27, the US renewed the GSP facility for Bangladesh, allowing duty-free entry to some of its goods.
But, the right group in the US appealed to the government for withdrawing such facility on the grounds of standards of labour in the garment factories and child labour in the shrimp sector.
The country's main export item ready-made garment products have been left out of the list of products enjoying the 97 percent duty-free facility. However, some items are allowed duty-free access under special arrangements like GSP.
The tenure of the old GSP scheme expired on December 31 and the US renewed it on September 27, when Bangladesh's one of the major export items, sleeping bag, retained the facility.
The US government blocked preferential access to goods from LDCs in January. The facility has been in place since 1974.
Nazma Akter, president of Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation, said she wants Bangladesh to get the GSP facility. At the same time the rights of the workers have to be maintained.
"We want the main export item of Bangladesh garment gets the facility. Both the officials of AFL-CIO and Bangladesh government should settle the issue through discussion."
In 2010-11, Bangladesh exported knitwear items worth US$1.12 billion and woven garments worth $3.50 billion to the US, according to Export Promotion Bureau. The country paid $630 million in duties to sell goods and products in the world's largest economy last year.