US move to cut trade privileges harsh: Bangladesh

Bangladesh termed as "harsh" and "shocking" a decision by the US to scrap its trade privileges for poor working conditions in factories.

Dhaka: Bangladesh on Friday termed as "harsh" and "shocking" a decision by the US to scrap its trade privileges for poor working conditions in factories, saying it has taken concrete measures to improve workers` safety and rights.

"It cannot be more shocking for the factory workers of Bangladesh that the decision to suspend GSP comes at a time when the Government of Bangladesh has taken concrete and visible measures to improve factory safety and protect workers` rights," the foreign office said in a statement.

Bangladesh was absolutely "respectful of a trading partner`s choice of decisions" but "expresses its deep concern that this harsh measure may bring in fresh obstacles in an otherwise flourishing bilateral trade," it said.

The US yesterday announced to suspend the duty-free trade privileges it had accorded to Bangladesh under Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme, citing poor conditions for workers after nearly 1,200 people died in the worst ever industrial disaster in the country in April this year.

"I have determined that it is appropriate to suspend Bangladesh ... Because it is not taking steps to afford internationally recognised worker rights to workers in the country," US President Barack Obama said in a statement.

GSP is a 37-year-old trade preference programme under which the US provides duty-free treatment to many imports from developing countries.

"It (Bangladesh) enjoys an extensive partnership with the US in multiple areas such as democratic institutions building, empowering grass roots people, protecting economically and socially vulnerable groups, countering terrorism, contribution to global peace, and most importantly, a lasting business-to-business connectivity," the foreign office said.

Dhaka hoped the US administration would soon restore its GSP status as it was a benefit "a least developed country is supposed to receive in the developed countries as per the provisions of the World Trade Organisation," it added.

As the importers of some Bangladesh products would now have to pay duties on them to bring them into the US once the suspension becomes effective, the foreign ministry expressed hope that top foreign retailers would not divert its orders elsewhere.

"Bangladesh hopes that despite this setback the buyers would continue their business with their long trusted partners and allow the US-Bangladesh trade to grow further," it said.

In 2012, the total value of imports that entered the US duty-free under GSP was USD 19.9 billion, including USD 34.7 million from Bangladesh.