Act right away
The United States has asked Bangladesh to amend the labour law immediately and effect prompt improvement in fire and building safety inspections and addressing workers' rights issues.
US Secretary of State John F Kerry made the call at an hour-long meeting with Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni at the State Department in Washington DC on Friday.
Expressing condolence to Dipu for the recent Rana Plaza collapse that killed 1,127 garment workers, Kerry said, "Everybody in America shared the agony of those losses, and our hearts go out to the families. We hope that this will be able to help all of us cooperate on the issue of labour and labour standards and workers and workers' rights."
She informed Kerry of Bangladesh's latest measures for ensuring workers' rights and workplace safety and the government's commitment to reforming the existing labour law. Amendments to the law will be placed in the coming parliament session.
The foreign minister urged the US government to continue to provide Bangladesh with GSP (the generalised system of preference) privileges and to extend duty-free and quota free market access for Bangladeshi products.
Kerry assured Dipu Moni that he would do his best, according to a press release of the Bangladesh Embassy in the USA.
"We are hopeful that the USA will continue giving GSP facilities to Bangladesh," said Bangladesh Ambassador in USA Akramul Quader.
A hearing on whether the USA should continue providing GSP facilities to Bangladesh has recently ended. Cancellation of the facilities would have negative impact on exports from Bangladesh.
"The office of the United States Trade Representative will make a proposal on GSP next month," Quader told The Daily Star over the phone, adding Bangladesh would get to know about the decision at that time.
Asked whether the much-talked about Trade and Investment Cooperation Framework Agreement (Ticfa) came up in the meeting, he said Bangladesh and the USA would soon make the deal.
“There are some procedural matters that are yet to be completed. We will sign the deal on completion of the formalities,” he said.
During the talks, Dipu Moni apprised Kerry of some other issues, including election-time government, climate change, Rohingya refugees, violence by Jamaat-Shibir men and Hefazat-e Islam and its 13-point demand.
Officials considered the meeting crucial as the relationship between Dhaka and Washington was not going good over several issues, including the removal of Prof Muhammad Yunus from Grameen Bank, Bangladesh's delay in signing Ticfa and the death of labour leader Aminul Islam.
According to the State Department's media note, Kerry said war crimes trial at the International Crimes Tribunal should be fair and transparent in line with international standards.
Dipu Moni explained the context of 1971 Liberation War, the role of war criminals and the tribunal's procedure.
She also renewed her invitation to the US secretary of state to visit Bangladesh. Kerry promised that he would make a visit at the earliest possible time.
When Kerry expressed his concern about the Rohingya population in Myanmar, the foreign minister said despite having constraints, Bangladesh had been a gracious host to the Rohingya refugees.
But the country cannot accommodate any more refugees, given the economic, environmental, social and geographical constraints, she added.
Appreciating Bangladesh's role, Kerry assured Dipu Moni that the USA would continue talks with Myanmar to resolve the matter.
Dipu Moni praised the US president's recent remark in Yangon that the solution to Rohingya problems lies in Myanmar and that the citizenship issue of Rohingyas must be addressed.
Dipu Moni told the US secretary of state that the Awami League-led government was committed to ensuring free, fair and inclusive parliamentary elections.
In this regard, she said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had already invited the opposition to a dialogue to place its suggessions about the model of the interim government.
RECENT VIOLENCE AND HEFAZAT
The foreign minister also informed Kerry of the countrywide violence incited by Jamaat-Shibir and briefed him on Hefazat's 13-point demand and the mayhem created by them.
Bangladesh cannot reverse its achievements and these demands clash with its constitution and aspirations and dreams of the people and go against the founding principles of the state established through the Liberation War in 1971, Dipu Moni said.
She added people rejected the outdated demands, including enactment of a blasphemy law and abolishing of women and education policies.
When Kerry raised the matter of Grameen Bank, Dipu Moni said that as a public statutory body, the bank was now running in accordance with the relevant rules and regulations. She also said appointment of a new managing director was facing some obstacles.
Dipu Moni urged the USA to stand by Bangladesh's climate change related adaptation and mitigation projects since the country is very vulnerable to the problem.
Kerry assured her of US assistance.
The two countries will hold its second partnership dialogue in Dhaka on May 26 and 27 to discuss further security, trade and development ties between them.
Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque will lead the Bangladeshi delegation while Wendy Sherman, US under secretary of state for political affairs, will lead the US delegation.
The first dialogue was held in Washington DC in September last year.