Ticfa harmless: GM Quader
Commerce Minister GM Quader yesterday defended the Hasina cabinet's decision to formalise the Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (Ticfa) with the US, terming it to be a 'simple and harmless' deal.
“We will not lose our sovereignty – there is nothing legally binding in the agreement. Ticfa will just create a platform to resolve bilateral trade disputes,” Quader said at a press conference in his secretariat office.
Although the signing of Ticfa does not guarantee reinstatement of trade privileges to the US market, it would give the country a solid platform to present its case.
“In fact, we have already raised the issue during the signing of the agreement,” he said, adding that the matter would be broadly discussed at the next forum meeting due to be held in Dhaka in January.
Following the twin industrial disasters of Tazreen fire and Rana Plaza collapse, the US on June 27, on grounds of insufficient labour rights and factory safety standards, suspended Bangladesh's Generalised System of Preferences status, which had provided duty-free access to 97 percent of the country's exports.
Garment, the country's main export item to the US, however, does not get duty-free access under the GSP scheme, and Quader said that the country would ask for its inclusion in the forum's Dhaka meeting.
The Obama administration, however, provided an action plan for the country to win back its GSP status, the progress of which is due for review by United States Trade Representative (USTR) next month. The commerce minister is hopeful that the progress made by the country with the action plan would be satisfactory.
Asked if the signing of the Ticfa on Monday in Washington would be valid seeing the Hasina government's tenure had ended, he said: “Of course it is. The version of the agreement signed was the one approved by the elected cabinet in June 17.”
“We could have signed the agreement within one week of the cabinet's nod, but it was delayed only because of foreign ministry,” he added.
After the cabinet approval, the commerce ministry served at least four letters to the foreign ministry to decide on a time and venue for the signing but it did not show any interest, according to Quader.
Asked about the timing of the signing which coincided with the announcement of the election schedule, he said: “These two events are totally unrelated.
The deal was not sealed to gain any stamp of approval from the US in the next general election.”
“I repeat, there is no political agenda behind the signing of the Ticfa. It was signed only for the greater interest of the people of Bangladesh,” he said, adding that all Saarc nations except for Bhutan have similar agreements with the US.
Currently, Bangladesh has bilateral trade agreements with 42 countries and eight trade blocs, with eight more bilateral trade agreements on way.
Meanwhile, USTR Ambassador Michael Froman said the Ticfa would enable the two countries to work together for improving labour condition and workers' rights in Bangladesh.
“Importantly, we will also be able to track and discuss Bangladeshi efforts. This is an important priority for the US as Bangladesh seeks to prevent more tragedies in its RMG sector,” he added.