With the emotionally charged week of the one-year anniversary of Rana Plaza coming to a close in Dhaka, economics and pragmatism are expected to rule as the inaugural session of the TICFA forum opens in the Bangladesh capital Monday.

The US-Bangladesh Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (TICFA) will be co-chaired by Assistant US Trade Representative for South Asia Michael Delaney and Bangladesh secretary of commerce Mahmud Ahmed.

The agreement on TICFA was made in Washington in November 2013 and came into effect last January.

The TICFA is the primary mechanism for the two countries to discuss specific trade and investment issues and a way to bolster trade between the US and Bangladesh. It is also being seen by Bangladesh industry executives and government officials as a crucial vehicle of change. The meeting is a chance to address in detail issues such as worker rights and safety, and the economic empowerment of women.

Speaking at the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce on Saturday, Delaney highlighted the importance of Bangladesh to the US as it “sets an important example in the region and the world as a moderate, secular, Muslim-majority democracy of 160 million people offering a positive role for regional stability and prosperity in South Asia.” He added that the United States believed that Bangladesh is “key to developing trade and economic corridors between South and South East Asia.”

“As you are all aware, there are also strong bilateral commercial and economic ties, especially in the readymade garment sector. US companies are heavily invested in Bangladesh,” he said.

He noted that great strides had been made in building trade and investment relations between the two nations. In 2009, US-Bangladesh bilateral trade exceeded $4 billion, which was up 50 percent to $6 billion in 2013.

Delaney observed that in the face of faltering global trade in 2009, apparel exports from Bangladesh to the United States, the Asian nation’s largest single country export destination, grew by 11 percent, and by 12 percent last year, surging over $5 billion.

US exports to Bangladesh also have grown — up 44 percent over the precious year in 2013 — and are expected to touch $1 billion this year. Cotton, yarn, fabric, machinery and food grains are the major exports from the US to Bangladesh, he said.

“I believe these numbers are only a fraction of the potential. Economists like me like to cite statistics, but I realize that these numbers represent many thousands of jobs for the people of Bangladesh,” Delaney noted, adding that he attached “considerable importance to the launch of the TICFA” as both countries had not been well served by the absence of a regular formal trade and investment dialogue between the countries.

He underscored the need for a regular, formal trade and investment dialogue between the two countries and said that while economic and investment issues would be discussed at the inaugural TICFA Council meeting on Monday, he looked forward to “establishing a TICFA Labor Affairs Committee and a TICFA Committee on Women’s Economic Empowerment where we can jointly work on these important issues with an interagency and inter-ministerial team of experts.”

Referring to developments in the garment industry, Delaney said, “Our hope is that Tazreen Fashions and Rana Plaza are a turning point that accelerates reforms within the industry. We hope that company owners, management, workers, and the government will embrace a vision in which the industry is a growing and continually improving engine of growth and good jobs and where workers are able to operate in safe environments, represent their interests effectively, and earn enough to support their families.

This is our shared vision but, if we all work together, it can become the reality for Bangladesh,” he said.

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