The duty-free access of Bangladesh's garment items to the US market largely depends on the successful completion of the World Trade Organisation's Doha Round of negotiations, WTO's director general said yesterday.
“I have already held meetings with the developed countries and asked them to successfully complete the Doha Round,” Roberto Azevedo said.
He said they expect 'a good outcome' from a meeting in December in Geneva.
Azevedo, who is now in Dhaka on a two-day visit, was speaking at a meeting with businesspeople at Hotel Sonargaon.
Currently, being a least developed country, Bangladesh enjoys duty-free access for 97 percent of its products to the US, but the country's main export item -- garments -- is not entitled to the privilege.
As a result, garment exporters have to pay 15.61 percent duty on exports to the US, Bangladesh's single largest export destination.
Bangladesh paid $746 million to the US customs as duty in 2012. China, despite being a developed nation, pays 3 percent duty for exporting its garment products to the US. The US duty benefit for Bangladesh's 97 percent products was agreed in the Hong Kong ministerial conference of the WTO in 2005.
Azevedo said the WTO is not an organisation that can put pressure on any country.
Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said removal of tariff barriers is one area where many have helped.
“We urge the WTO to ensure that non-tariff barriers are not used against LDCs. The 'rules of origin' are unnecessarily complex in cases,” Islam said.
Mohammad Hatem, acting president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said the preferential rules of origin are often considered too restrictive and inflexible in the case of LDCs, making it difficult for them to take advantage of an intended preference. Azevedo also met Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed at his secretariat in Dhaka.
“If the Doha Round is completed, an automatic mandate will be in place for duty-free access for all products originated from the least developed countries,” he said at a press conference after the meeting with the commerce minister. Tofail Ahmed said Bangladesh's garments not enjoying duty benefit in the US market is a challenge. “We accepted the challenge and are performing well. We have successfully eliminated child labour from the garment sector,” Ahmed said.
Meanwhile, rights groups said neither Bangladesh nor other LDCs should agree on TISA (Trade in Services Agreement) or TIFA (Trade and Investment Framework Agreement) as being pushed by the WTO.
The deals will undermine the basic human rights by commercialisation of education, health, food and water and only ensure the unchallenged profit by the multinational companies, they said.
The government of Bangladesh should not agree on the deals even in exchange of duty-free market access, said the rights organisations led by EquityBD at a press conference at the National Press Club.