Themorningbellbd.com desk, September 20: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday urged the US government to give duty and quota-free access to its market for Bangladesh’s readymade garment (RMG) products in order to help expand the apparel industry.
She said this move would also be vital for the US in helping to increase employment and promote empowerment of more women, thereby establishing a modern society in Bangladesh.
Her remarks came at a luncheon meeting hosted by the Business Council of International Understanding (BCIU) at Hotel Waldorf Astoria in New York on Monday, according to Press Secretary to the Prime Minister Ihsanul Karim.
She said 52 other countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, China, Japan and India as also the European Union, have provided Bangladesh with duty and quota-free access to their markets. The US, she noted, should be just as fair.
Bangladesh used to enjoy duty-free access to the US market for around 5,000 items under the preferential trade scheme.
But such trade benefits for Bangladesh were revoked in mid-2013 in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse and Tazreen Fashions fire, which left more than 1,200 people dead.
The suspension, however, did not directly hit Bangladesh’s garment exports, as garments were not among the products that enjoyed the facility.
Sheikh Hasina on Monday also urged US businesses and investors to become Bangladesh’s partner in trade and development.
She said Bangladesh was ready for US investment in power, energy, especially renewable and green energy; shipbuilding and recycling, automobile and light engineering, chemical fertilisers, agro-processing, pharmaceuticals, ceramic and plastic goods, ICT, marine resources extraction’ tourism, medical equipments, telecommunications and knowledge based high tech industries.
Sketching a clear picture of the facilities to be provided for US businesses, the prime minister said relations between the US and Bangladesh had become stronger since her administration came to power in 2009.
US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to Bangladesh had also had a positive impact on the business ties of both countries, she added.
Mentioning that American companies were still the largest investors in Bangladesh, Hasina said they invested $500 million or 25 percent of the total FDI last year.
In trade, the US is still the largest single country destination of Bangladeshi products, she said.
The quantum of bilateral trade between the two countries reached $7 billion last year, she continued. “It could be more if the high tariffs and compliance issues on Bangladeshi apparel to US market were removed.”
After suspending GSP facilities, the US had rolled out a 16-point action plan to improve working conditions in the readymade garment factories in Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh government has repeatedly stressed that all the recommendations have been complied with. Washington acknowledges the progress made so far but says more needs to be done to get the GSP privileges back.
Since last year, all South Asian nations, barring Bangladesh, have enjoyed trade benefits with the US.
The prime minister told US businesses that Bangladesh’s apparel industry employed 4 million workers, 90 percent of whom were women and from poor families.
She spoke about how the women’s earnings had empowered them and how their contributions now provide better nutritional food, allow their siblings to go to schools, and give them a respected voice at home.
Hasina also said that their empowerment was also helping reduce poverty, control population growth and increase literacy in the country.
“Significantly, this trend is supporting our fight against extremism and terrorism by transforming our society into a progressive one. For these efforts to succeed, it is vital for the US to give Bangladesh apparel duty and quota-free access.”