‘No TIFCA, no duty-free RMG access’Bdnews24.com . Dhaka
Bangladesh’s readymade garment products will not get duty-free access to its single largest export destination market in the United States unless Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (TICFA) is signed, the US ambassador in Dhaka says.
Ambassador Dan W Mozena made it apparently clear at a meeting with the leaders of Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association on Wednesday when he sounded an alarm about the industry’s future exports amid labour unrest and volatile politics in Bangladesh.
He described how American buyers were getting ‘negative perceptions’ of Bangladesh garment industries because of Labour activist Aminul Islam’s murder and fire incidents at factory zones.
He said it could ‘drive away’ key American buyers, but ‘I think Bangladesh needs American market’.
Mozena said duty-free access was a kind of issue that will be raised in the forum created in TICFA. ‘It [duty-free access] will be defined there [TICFA forum].’
The decision on duty-free access, according to Mozena, is a ‘political’ decision, ‘but you need to create the environment.’
He blamed Bangladesh for what he said ‘continued failure’ to sign the agreement and that the failure was being interpreted by Washington ‘as the result of Bangladesh’s try to walk back from its international labour obligations.’
‘The TICFA is quite simple and has only a single action item – the establishment of a forum to identify and seek to resolve obstacles to increasing bilateral trade and investment – it has now been dragging on for four years.’
He, however, said it (signing TICFA for duty-free access) was not a precondition, but a reality.
The demand for duty-free access of Bangladesh’s apparels to the US market is a long pending issue as despite being a least developed country, Bangladesh has to pay high tariffs for the access.
About labour leader Aminul’s murder, Mozena said although his murder eliciting little attention or interest in Bangladesh, US labour rights supporters have ‘seized’ on this issue.
He said several members of Congress have written to the secretary of state Hillary Clinton to convey their concern about Aminul’s murder.
‘Secretary Clinton raised Aminul by name with the prime minister, foreign minister and leader of Opposition. The secretary discussed the labour situation in Bangladesh in each of those meetings.’ ‘I don’t know if you are paying attention, but you should be,’ Mozena said.
Citing media outbursts in America, he told the business leaders present at the meeting: ‘I don’ know if you are watching it [eports in New York Times, ABC News] but Americans are watching.’
The BGMEA organised the meeting with the US Ambassador to brief him on the need for duty-free access of the thriving RMG sector.
But the ambassador’s remarks have further fuelled their worry.
‘We are very serious about the murder,’ BGMEA president Md Shaiful Islam said, ‘We condemned the murder [of Aminul] soon after we heard about it. We demanded investigation into it. The Inspector General of Police assured us of bringing the culprits into justice.’
He said workers were the major contributor to their progress and that they were ‘serious about improving workers-owners relationship.’
‘The broader engagement with the ILO [International Labour Organisation] in the coming days would help resolve many problems in the sector,’ he said.
The ambassador gave several examples of how he was sensing the potential threats to Bangladesh garment industry.
Mozena said many of the negative perceptions about Bangladesh that may be taking root in America are also growing in Europe.
He said recently he had received a call, for the first time of his career, from a CEO of one of Bangladesh’s biggest buyers. He shared his increasing concern that the tarnishing Bangladesh brand may be putting his company’s reputation at risk.
In another instance, he said at a recent dinner hosted by FBCCI President AK Azad, six buyers for major American brands took him aside and shared with him the increasing concerns coming out of their respective headquarters about what they see was happening in Bangladesh, as conveyed to the American public through negative stories in the media.
He said the garment sector unrest in Bangladesh could coalesce into a ‘perfect storm’ that could ‘threaten Bangladesh and the Bangladesh brand in America, which could drive away key American buyers of Bangladesh RMG.’
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