Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dhaka [Bangladesh] looks to WTO meet to win African LDCs’ support

Mirdha, Refayet Ullah (The Daily Star Online Edition, Dhaka)

Bangladesh is currently in talks, both bilateral and multilateral, with least developed countries (LDCs) in Africa to gain support from them in winning a zero tariff facility for its major exportable items in the United States market.

According to officials, it targets the World Trade Organisation (WTO) mini-ministerial meeting to be held in Tanzania on October 14-16 to unite all 49 LDCs to mount pressure for such duty-free access.

The Tanzania meet will lay a foundation for the Bangladeshi team joining there to have positive responses from the Africans in the upcoming WTO Summit.

The Summit is due to take place in Geneva from November 30 to December 2, 2009.

“The US duty-free access is on top of our agenda in the Tanzania meet for which we have finalised the drafts to be put up there”, said Amitava Chakraborty, Director General of the WTO Cell at the Bangladesh commerce ministry.

Progress in MODE-4, free movement of natural persons to facilitate human resource exports to developed countries is another topic the country wants to put forward in the talks, Chakraborty said.

Bangladesh has an advantageous position in the negotiations given that its major products are different from those exported by African LDCs, which enjoy US Preferences, Tariff Commission Chairman Dr Mujibur Rahman pointed out.

“The Tanzania meet opportunity might be availed to make the Africans understand that erosion of the preferences they enjoy in the US is unlikely as Bangladesh’s products are not similar”, Rahman said.

“If a common declaration comes out from Tanzania meet, it will help Bangladesh get a duty-free benefit from the US”, he maintained.

Moreover, neighbouring developing nation India recently offered Bangladesh and other LDCs greater cooperation in the WTO Geneva Summit, he said.

This will help raise voice in favour of Bangladesh in the Summit as Sri Lanka and Pakistan – two other developing countries – now also lobby for tariff cuts on exports to the US, Bangladesh’s tariff body chief said.

Although Bangladesh is an LDC, it will seek the benefits as it fears losing competitiveness to Sri Lanka and Pakistan, who enjoy US privileges because of their embattled political situation, Dr Rahman said.

Negotiations are on to bring down tariffs to five percent for five selected Lankan and Pakistani garment items within five years. Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are currently paying 15 percent duty on apparel exports to the US market.

According to a senior official of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the country paid US$576 million as duty against its nearly US$3 billion exports to the US in 2008. The country exported mainly woven and knitwear to the US during the year, the official said.

France, being an advanced economy, paid the same amount of duty although it exported 15 times more than Bangladesh to the US during the period, he said.