Help us get GSP back
Three top government officials yesterday sought cooperation from US Congressman Sander Levin in winning back trade privileges from the United States.
Levin, who has been vocal about stern actions against Bangladesh in the aftermath of Rana Plaza collapse and Tazreen fire, is touring Bangladesh to assess the progress the country has made in ensuring worker safety since the suspension of Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) on June 27.
It is believed that Levin's positive feedback would be of great help when the Obama administration reviews Bangladesh's GSP status in December.
“We told him that the garment business has helped reduce poverty for millions. Harsh actions against Bangladesh would push them back to their previous state,” Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed told The Daily Star following a meeting with Levin.
At the meeting, Labour and Employment Secretary Mikail Shipar briefed the Congressman on the measures taken by the government to enhance worker rights and factory conditions.
“We have amended the labour act to allow full freedom of association. We are recruiting 200 more factory inspectors and have formed a ministerial committee to conduct building inspections—we are doing as they asked.”
Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque was also present at the meeting held at state guesthouse Padma. Levin also met Foreign Minister Dipu Moni. He did not speak to the media.
Earlier in the day, Levin visited a garment factory near Dhaka and called on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at her office, during which he demanded further efforts from all stakeholders, including the buyers and retailers.
Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, also sought cooperation from Levin for reinstatement of GSP benefits, during a meeting on Monday.
“We have also demanded duty-free entry of Bangladeshi garment items to the US market,” Islam said.
Bangladeshi garment exporters currently pay 15.30 percent duty upon entry to the US market. In 2012, the country paid nearly $746 million as duty to the US customs for exporting $5 billion worth of garment items.
Levin earlier wrote to US President Barack Obama saying the mounting death toll in the country's garment industry underscores the need for immediate action to address the crisis of working conditions and worker rights.
“We must use all possible tools to address this situation. The GSP is one tool that we understand your administration is already considering and we support its robust use. But action under GSP alone is insufficient to address the monumental challenges in Bangladesh's garment sector,” he said in the letter to Obama May 1.
To date, around 1,800 died due to garment factory-related incidents.
He also wrote to Hasina and some retailers in May to take proper steps to ensure safety of the workers in the factories.
Levin is the second Congressman to visit Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza tragedy: George Miller paid a visit earlier in May to observe the labour and working conditions.