Bangladesh is going to offer the USA revocation of the double fumigation of its cotton, and seek duty and quota-free US market access, according to officials.
The proposal incorporates importing cotton from the US without purifying it at Chattogram port for the second time, and especially exporting the apparel made from the cotton to the US market.
Apart from placing the proposal at the second round of the US-Bangladesh High-Level Economic Partnership Consultation, slated for 2 June in Washington, Bangladesh will also seek easier drug export and invite a US technical team to Dhaka to launch a Dhaka-New York direct flight.
Prime Minister's Private Industry and Investment Adviser Salman F Rahman will lead the Bangladesh delegation to the bilateral talks. Two inter-ministerial meetings were held on 12 April and 19 April in this regard. Salman F Rahman presided over the meetings, while State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam attended those as the co-chair.
The meetings discussed amending the laws and regulations to revoke double fumigation of US cotton. Another meeting will be held on 8 May in this regard.
Md Jashim Uddin, president of the Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), who was present at the inter-ministerial meeting on 19 April, told The Business Standard that the agriculture ministry was requested to lift the double fumigation condition.
Fumigation is a method of killing pests, termites or any other harmful living organisms to prevent transfer of exotic organisms. It is mostly done on completion of stuffing of cargo and closing the door of a container. Pre-shipment fumigation is asked for in most of the cases where wood materials are used for packing export goods. Regulations of some countries insist on fumigation of cargo by the supplier and producing fumigation certificates along with other export documents.
Though the US fumigates the cotton before shipping it to any country, Bangladeshi laws require purifying the import further at the port – which the local businessmen term an "unnecessary" measure "only to raise" their production cost.
Bangladesh may import 1 million bales of cotton from American suppliers in 2022-23, up 43% from last year amid rising domestic use, the US Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service said in a report.
Bangladesh's total overseas cotton purchases may rise 2.3% to 8.9 million bales, it forecasts.
Terming the second time fumigation a non-tariff business barrier, the US has also been pressing the government to cancel it.
According to the meeting minutes of the 12 April inter-ministerial talks, both Salman F Rahman and Shahriar Alam emphasised reviewing the existing plant quarantine rules to facilitate the greater two-way trade with the US. The agriculture ministry said laws and rules regarding fumigation of imported US cotton might be revised to withdraw the provision.
Retrieving GSP still challenging
FBCCI President Md Jashim Uddin said the US currently does not have a Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) scheme, and the new scheme is yet to be formulated.
"After the removal of the double fumigation, we will demand the restoration of the GSP facility to the US for the export of readymade garments made of US cotton. This will be more logical," he added.
After the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, the United States suspended Bangladesh's GSP facility. Washington put forward an elaborate action plan for retrieving the facility. Mentioning that the action plan has been implemented, Bangladesh demanded reinstatement of the GSP, but the US then suggested "further improvement".
According to the minutes of the inter-ministerial meeting, the Ministry of Labour and Employment underlined that Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in compliance in line with the suggestions by the US.
The US suggestions include proper investigation of the murder case of labour leader Aminul Islam, increase of trade union registration and ensuring freedom of association and collective bargaining and amendment to the EPZ Act allowing trade unions.
Although the government has increased trade union registration in the readymade garment industry, it has not yet been able to unravel Aminul murder mystery. Besides, no initiative has been taken to amend the EPZ Act.
The labour ministry, however, told the meeting that the country has now adopted the "EU National Action Plan" roadmap in consultation with relevant stakeholders.
The nine-point action plan issued by the European Union also calls for the introduction of trade unions by amending the EPZ Act. However, Dhaka is yet to promise an EPZ Act amendment allowing trade unions.
Dhaka for direct flight to NY amid soured ties
After the first ever US-Bangladesh High-Level Economic Partnership Consultation on 30 September 2020, the US imposed sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and some of its officials for "serious human rights abuse" in December that year.
Foreign policy analysts say not inviting Dhaka to democracy summit by the White House and subsequently the ban on RAB clouded the bilateral relations.
In the Bangladesh-US Partnership Dialogue held in Dhaka in March, Bangladesh requested rescinding the ban as the US said it was ready to support Bangladesh in improving human rights related issues.
In a recent report released by the US State Department on human rights, Washington said Bangladesh does not carry proper investigation and punish law enforcers involved in human rights abuse.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam rebutted the report, saying there were "fundamental flaws" in the report and the government would seek clarification from the US.
Bangladesh will also seek Dhaka-New York direct flight and propose a special economic zone for US companies.
Besides, Bangladesh will emphasise cooperation for the pharmaceutical industry and US investments in different sectors.
At the inter-ministerial meeting, the civil aviation ministry gave an overview of the current safety and security standard of Dhaka airport.
According to the meeting minutes, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources may seek US co-operation for offshore gas exploration and installation of gas transmission lines.