GSP to be back soon: Faruk Khan
Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Faruk Khan attends a discussion with analysts and industry leaders on the challenges of the garment sector of the country at The Daily Star Centre in the city yesterday. Shippers' Council of Bangladesh organised the event. Photo: Star
Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Faruk Khan is optimistic that the country will regain duty-free benefits to the US in the next six months.
“It's a common misconception that the US has cancelled the GSP [generalised system of preferences] for Bangladesh. In reality, the Obama administration has only suspended it temporarily -- they would review it after six months.”
The former commerce minister is hopeful that the GSP status would be reinstated then, as a number of steps have already been taken to address the issues raised by the United States Trade Representative.
Khan's comments came at a discussion on the challenges faced by the country's garment sector, organised yesterday by the Shippers' Council of Bangladesh at The Daily Star Centre in the city.
“The garment trade is an extremely cut-throat business, where many resort to conspiracies to get ahead. Going forward, we have to be watchful that we are not at the receiving end of yet another conspiracy, so that our assets don't get ruined.”
“I'd also like to take this opportunity to state clearly that the EU [European Union] and Japan have not suspended GSP facilities for us -- and they don't intend to, either.”
He also touched upon the proposed amendment to the labour law, which is due to be passed at parliament on July 14.
“The new labour law will be of equal benefit to the entrepreneurs and the workers,” Khan added.
Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, expressed his disappointment that the improvements made by the country since 2007, when its eligibility for trade benefits to the US market was called into question, did not count.
“We have improved a lot since 2007 -- but they have all gone unnoticed during last month's review. This makes me think that Bangladesh was the victim of a conspiracy by the international players.”
Meanwhile, Nazneen Ahmed, a senior research fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, urged the international retailers to join hands with the manufacturers for the workers' welfare.
“The sector is going through a crisis. This is the right time for the retailers to show their good intentions,” she said, while calling for immediate increase of wages for the garment workers.
MM Akash, a professor at Dhaka University, however, disagreed that the garment sector is going through a crisis period.
“Rather, the sector has received some warning signs. The stakeholders would do well to pay heed to them, or else it would become a full-blown crisis.” Like Nazneen, he, too, called for wage rises.
He also suggested that trade unionism be allowed at factories so that “a balanced, healthy relationship can be created between the employers and the employees”.
Asif Ibrahim, managing director of Newage Garment, however, is sceptical of the efficacy of the traditional trade unions “as the previous experiences were not good”.
He said an international conference will be organised in Dhaka in October or November to discuss the problems and prospects of the country's garment sector.
Nazma Akter, president of Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation, said owing to the low wages workers are suffering from malnutrition, whose effect is manifested in lower productivity.
She said the sector will soon face a scarcity of experienced garment workers if the wages are not raised.
“Jordan and Mauritius pay much higher than us -- many experienced workers are now emigrating there. In the near future, it can become a wholesale migration.”
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, additional research director of Centre for Policy Dialogue, presented the keynote paper, while Salehuddin Ahmed, managing editor of The Daily Star, moderated the roundtable.