Dhaka Apparel Summit 2017

No pressure on Bangladesh RMG sector: US envoy

You can call it pressure but we call it ‘eligibility’, says Bernicat

25 Feb 2017, 21:51 | updated: 25 Feb 2017, 22:12

Online Desk

Dhaka: The United States has dismissed the allegation of exerting any pressure on Bangladesh’s key export earning sector – readymade garment (RMG) industry -- in the name of workers’ rights and safety standards.

“You can call it pressure but we call it eligibility,” US ambassador to Bangladesh Marcia Bernicat told reporters while responding to a question after attending a discussion on RMG sector at the Dhaka Apparel Summit 2017.

Referring to the suspension of GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) benefit for Bangladeshi products (except RMG) in the US market, she said, “If you want to be a member of a club, you have to be eligible for the membership of the club. GSP has the eligibility standards.”

Reminding that Bangladeshi RMG products had never been under the GSP benefit, Bernicat said that is “continuously confused” but what happens in the RMG sector affects other sectors.

She also said GSP is something that is a law in the US. The Congress created the US GSP programme in 1974, with broad bipartisan support, to expand the choices of American industry and consumers while creating economic opportunities through increased exports from developing countries.

On desired duty-free-quota-free (DFQF) access to US market, the US Ambassador said the US has only offered DFQF facilities through trade agreement which is multi-country trade agreement.

She said it is ‘extremely unlikely’ outside of a multilateral agreement to enjoy DFQF market access by Bangladesh.

Responding to a question from news agency UNB, Bernicat said, “I would say the price is between the buyers and sellers in any democratic economic system.”

She said it is up to the sellers to negotiate prices with those buyers. “They’ve to figure out… we aren’t going to dictate buyers…”

Earlier, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed expressed displeasure for talking too much about trade unions instead of saying anything about the raising the prices of Bangladesh apparel products.

He wondered why only Bangladesh will be in discussion when it comes to trade union and why not such talk about Vietnam, China, India, Pakistan and other countries.

Laying emphasis on boosting productivity in the RMG sector, the US Ambassador said, “One of the easiest ways to increase productivity is to implement those safety standards (for workers).”

On workers rights, Bernicat said unrest may arise in the industry but it is important to have an effective mechanism to resolve problems giving workers voice.

The then US Administration in June 2013 suspended Bangladesh’s trade benefits under the GSP programme resulted in US imports of GSP-eligible products from Bangladesh becoming ineligible for duty-free treatment. 

A GSP review of Bangladesh has recognised progress but urged that more be done on worker safety and rights.