BGMEA blames int'l politics
International politics had played a key role in the US decision to suspend trade preferences for Bangladesh, said Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, yesterday.
"Of course, politics was part of it," he told reporters during a press meet at Dhaka Reporters Unity in the capital.
His comments came less than two weeks after the US suspended Bangladesh's eligibility for the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) on June 27 due to insufficient progress in improving worker rights and safety standards.
Atiqul said the killing of labour leader Aminul Islam had come first and the cases against labour activists Babul and Kalpona Akter second on the list of factors that “came to light after the hearing [at the US Trade Representative's Office]”.
"Labour conditions were sixth and fire incidents seventh. If the Rana Plaza building collapse or the Tazreen fire had been the factors behind the suspension, they would have topped the list," he said.
The United States had overreacted by suspending the duty-free access of Bangladeshi products to its market, he observed. "We are continuously making progress in the sector. Therefore, the US decision was not right."
He thanked the European Union for assuring Bangladesh that it would not cancel the GSP privileges.
The recent tragedies such as the Tazreen Fashions fire and the Rana Plaza building collapse have prompted the government to undertake a number of steps to improve labour conditions.
These include the introduction of a new wage structure for garment workers and the approval of the draft Labour (Amendment) Act, 2013.
However, the US has deemed them insufficient.
"There are many issues in the labour law that will go against the industry,” Atiqul said. “Still we want the law to be approved as soon as possible for the sake of the industry."
The BGMEA chief did not directly answer the question whether opposition leader Khaleda Zia's write-up published in a US newspaper influenced the suspension.
However, he said, "Any negative campaign against the country and the sector is unacceptable. The politicians will have to convey a positive message instead."
Bangladesh should find out new export destinations and add more products to the export basket, he said, as the US and the EU receive 87 percent of its exports, with ready-made garments occupying the lion's share.
"We also need to go for high-end products," he noted, adding that the building collapse occurred at a time when high-end garment producers had started to show interest in sourcing more products from the country.
Atiqul said international partners such as the EU should formulate a code of conduct that the industry can cope with.
The EU will meet in Geneva on Monday to formulate an agreement called "European Compact" outlining compliance for Bangladesh's garment industry.