The Bangladesh government claimed it has met all the conditions submitted by the United States to regain its preferential trade status. Still, while the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office praised the country’s progress, it also noted potential issues that cloud the timeline to restore Bangladesh’s status.
In 2013, the U.S. suspended Bangladesh’s preferred status in the wake of multiple factory accidents that killed about 1,500 workers and injured hundreds more. To meet the 16 stipulations set forth by the U.S., the Bangladesh government said it has shut down over 360 apparel factories for insufficient safety measures, allowed workers to form unions and increased the number of factory inspectors. About 500 factory-based unions have formed and registered, in addition to workers’ welfare associations.
A delegation from the USTR visiting Bangladesh this week said the country still has more to do. “We saw very good progress initially on union registrations, with an unprecedented number of unions successfully registering. Now however, there seems to be slowing in this area, with an increasing number of union registrations being denied,” said Michael J. Delaney, assistant U.S. trade representative. Worker welfare advocates have also noted that many of the formed unions are controlled by factory owners, while independent trade union groups have been denied registration. Delaney voiced concerns about harassment of unions and said the Bangladesh government must be prepared to take on “increased regulatory responsibilities.”
The U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) allows imports from the world’s poorest countries with little or no tariffs applied. Apparel, Bangladesh’s top import and responsible for employing 4 million workers in the country, was not part of the preferred status suspension. In 2012, Bangladesh exported $34.7 million of non-apparel goods to the U.S., including tobacco, sports equipment, porcelain china, plastic products and more. “The issue of GSP is a matter of image crisis for the country and not much of financial losses,” said Bangladesh Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed.