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USA wants more progress for GSP reinstatement

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Staff Reporter

Recognizing the progress made so far, the United States has said further progress is needed, including addressing the serious worker rights issues before the reinstatement of Bangladesh’s trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).

“We urge the government to complete the remaining factory inspections as soon as possible to prevent the recurrence of workplace tragedies such as those that occurred in 2012 and 2013,” USA’s Trade Representative Michael Froman said on Friday.

A USTR-led interagency review has concluded that while Bangladesh has made progress over the last year to address fire and building safety issues in the ready-made garment (RMG) sector, according to USTR.

The review was conducted by the USTR-chaired GSP Subcommittee of the interagency Trade Policy Staff Committee, which includes representatives of the Departments of State, Labor, Commerce, Agriculture, and the Treasury, as well as the US Agency for International Development.

President Obama suspended Bangladesh from GSP in June 2013 based on Bangladesh’s failure to meet statutory eligibility requirements related to worker rights.

“There is more work to do, building on the collaboration between the government of Bangladesh, private sector stakeholders, and the International Labor Organization, to address the concerns about factory safety in the apparel sector,” the USTR said on the GSP review of Bangladesh.

They also urged the government to accelerate its efforts to ensure workers’ rights and take measures to address continuing reports of harassment of and violence against labor activists who are attempting to exercise their rights.

The administration recently concluded a USTR-led interagency review of progress by the government of Bangladesh in implementing the GSP Action Plan, which provides a basis for the potential reinstatement of GSP trade benefits.

The review found that there has been progress in some important areas, particularly with respect to fire and building safety issues.

Under the general supervision of the Bangladesh government, over 2,000 initial safety inspections of factories have been completed in the RMG sector over the last year, most by teams organized by private sector initiatives led by North American and European brands and retailers.

These inspections resulted in the closure of at least 31 factories, the partial closure of 17 additional factories, and the identification of needed remedial measures in hundreds more.

The government is responsible for the inspection of several hundred more factories and has hired additional inspection teams to carry out and sustain the inspection effort.

The review also found that further progress is needed in several key areas under the Action Plan. In particular, urgent progress is needed to fairly and systematically address reports of unfair labor practices and to advance and implement needed legal reforms.

The US government is concerned about continuing reports of harassment and violence against union activists seeking to establish new unions or to exercise their legal rights.

There has also been little progress in advancing the labor law reforms called for in the Action Plan, including changes to ensure that workers are afforded the same rights and protections in Export Processing Zones as in the rest of the country.

In addition to engaging regularly with the government of Bangladesh, the US government is also closely coordinating with the European Union, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other international partners under the July 2013 Sustainability Compact on worker rights and factory safety in Bangladesh.

President Obama’s June 2013 decision to suspend Bangladesh’s trade benefits under the GSP program resulted in US imports of GSP-eligible products from Bangladesh becoming ineligible for duty-free treatment.

In 2012, the total value of US imports from Bangladesh under GSP was $34.7 million; the top GSP imports from Bangladesh included tobacco, sports equipment, porcelain china, and plastic products.

Legal authorization for duty-free treatment for all countries under GSP expired on July 31, 2013.

The Obama Administration supports Congressional action to reauthorize the GSP program at the earliest opportunity.