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Bangladesh Urged to Drop Tariffs on Safety Equipment

Trade associations say high duties are an impediment to reform.

Six major trade associations in the U.S. and Canada are urging the Bangladesh government to eliminate import duties on safety equipment, which would vastly bring down the costs related to remediation in garment factories and improve factory safety.

This story first appeared in the April 9, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Executives with the American Apparel & Footwear Association, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association, U.S. Fashion Industry Association, Canadian Apparel Federation and Retail Council of Canada wrote to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed and said, “The elimination of these duties would greatly accelerate the current efforts to improve worker safety in Bangladesh.”

They said the U.S. and Canadian garment industries “have played a strong role in ongoing efforts to improve worker safety in Bangladesh, supporting and/or participating in the Tripartite National Action Plan, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and other initiatives,” in the wake of two major factory tragedies in the last 18 months that have taken the lives of more than 1,200 workers and put the Bangladesh garment industry under global scrutiny.

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“A major goal of these initiatives is to remediate thousands of Bangladeshi…factories so that the workers employed in these factories are safe,” the letter stated. “It is predicted that these remediation efforts could cost tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars per factory — to improve exits, install fire-safe doors, install sprinkler systems, restructure the factory.”

The groups said the current high duties paid on Bangladeshi imports of key safety equipment can make what is already a costly, but necessary, investment in remediation “next to impossible.” They said, “With duties and other taxes on fire doors reaching 61.09 percent and on sprinkler systems reaching 31.07 percent, not only do these import duties act as a significant deterrent for factories to make necessary investments, but these significant duties also drain away much needed capital from our common goal — improving worker safety.”

The associations noted that Bangladesh Minister of Commerce Tofail Ahmed said at the recent International Trade Expo for Building and Fire Safety in Dhaka that the government supports the elimination of duties on safety equipment, and asked that the government take immediate action in that regard, adding that “making this change will contribute greatly toward improving worker safety in Bangladesh.”