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Bangla minister warns Ticfa meaningless without GSP
24
Sep '15
Bangladeshi Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed has said the Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (Ticfa) will be meaningless if the GSP to the US market is not restored.

The Awami League government in 2013 signed the Ticfa agreement with the US. Soon afterwards, the Obama administration suspended GSP facility over dangerous work conditions in the garment industry.

The US gave Bangladesh a 16-point action plan at the time to get back the preferential trade privilege. Although Bangladesh claims to have fulfilled most of the clauses, Washington did not include Bangladesh in its updated list of eligible countries for GSP facility last August.

"We have already fulfilled all the 16 conditions laid down in the Bangladesh Action Plan,” the minister said after a meeting with a US Trade delegation delegation in Dhaka, according to Bangladeshi newspapers.

Ahmed added that the Ticfa is a platform for settling any trade related disputes through discussion between Bangladesh and the US.

A delegation from the Office of the US Trade Representative or USTR led by Assistant US Trade Representative for South and Central Asia Michael Delaney met Ahmed at his office at Bangladesh Secretariat in Dhaka.

In the meeting, they suggested the government to form a separate, single trade union in each EPZ through merging the existing Workers' Welfare Associations (WWAs) for restoration of the GSP to the US market.

In Bangladesh, the WWAs are considered as workers' platforms in the factories housed in the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) to protect their rights in absence of trade unions.

“We have little to do. We have done a lot to regain the GSP (generalized system of preference),” Tofail told journalists after the meeting with the US delegation.

Asked whether the merging of WWAs to a single trade union is a new condition or not, the minister said: “No. This is not any condition for us.”

“We cannot introduce the trade unions in the factories housed in the EPZs because in 1999, the government signed agreement with the investors assuring them that there will be no trade union in the EPZs to protect the workers' rights,” Ahmed added.

So, instead of the trade unions, the government allowed the WWAs, which have been functioning like unions in those specialised economic zones, where mainly the overseas entrepreneurs have invested.

Speaking about the meeting with the USTR delegation, Ahmed said, “They have expressed satisfaction over Bangladesh's progress in meeting the conditions and the developments.”

But the Americans do not seem to be on the same page as Ahmed. In a press meet, Delaney said there was an assessment by “some” in Bangladesh that the action plan had already been fulfilled. “But the fact is that our own tracking of the items in the plan indicates that more needs to be done.”

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