The U.S. and Bangladesh are set to sign a Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement on Monday that is said to provide an important mechanism for the two countries to discuss bilateral trade and investment issues, as well as be a forum to pursue cooperative activities.
This story first appeared in the November 25, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler and Bangladesh Secretary of Commerce Mahbub Ahmed are expected to sign the TICFA in Washington.
In July, the U.S. and Bangladesh agreed to a Bangladesh Action Plan, along with a statement by the U.S. on “Labor Rights and Factory Safety in Bangladesh.” The USTR said at the time that the implementation of the actions outlined in the plan could provide a basis for the President to consider reinstatement of the Generalized System of Preferences trade benefits for Bangladesh that were suspended in June, which went into effect in September. Apparel and textiles were not covered by GSP, which included imports such as tobacco, sports equipment, porcelain china and plastic products.
In dropping GSP benefits, the U.S. cited the severity of Bangladesh’s garment factory safety problems and the inability of Bangladeshi workers to exercise their full range of labor rights.
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The Action Plan provides a list of measures related to fire and building safety, as well as worker rights in the garment industry, export processing zones and the shrimp sector. The TICFA is seen as a structure for both countries to work toward these goals, as well as improve investment and other trade opportunities.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) and committee Democrats released a report Friday calling on global brands and retailers, factory owners and the Bangladeshi government to work to ensure the safety of garment workers by giving organized labor a stronger foothold in Bangladesh. The committee said the U.S. should pressure the Bangladeshi government enact labor law reform and the freedom of association to bargain collectively in implementing the action plan to reinstate GSP benefits, while also calling on the U.S. to increase funding for programs in Bangladesh to improve union organizing and bargaining.
On Friday, U.K.-based Edinburgh Woolen Mill, which also owns high-street chains Peacocks and Jane Norman, became the latest company to join the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety. The accord is a legally binding agreement that now includes 115 companies and trade unions from 19 countries across Europe, North America, Asia and Australia created to help prevent future factory catastrophes in Bangladesh.