A delegation of the European Parliament's Committee on International Trade is due today to inspect how much progress Bangladesh has made in implementing the EU's nine-point action plan to address labour and human rights issues – a prerequisite to stay eligible for the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) facility.
The 11-member delegation will be led by Member of European Parliament Heidi Hautala. During the visit on July 18-20, they will meet with Law Minister Anisul Haque and State Minister for Labour and Employment Begum Monnujan Sufian on the progress of amendments to labour law and EPZ labour act.
Besides, the team will also hold a meeting with Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi and State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam.
The European delegation will meet with Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association and Bangladesh Employers' Federation. They will also hold separate meetings with trade union leaders, ILO officials, civil society organisations.
During the visit, the EU delegation will visit "green" Aman Spinning Mills Limited, SKF Pharmaceuticals Limited and Jute Diversification Promotion Centre.
According to commerce ministry officials, the EU will implement a new GSP scheme – given under its Everything but Arms arrangement from 2024. To stay eligible for the facility that allows duty-free and quota-free access to the EU market, Bangladesh, as required by the EU, has formulated a nine-point action plan with a target to execute it by 2026.
The time-bound action plan stipulates that child labour be eliminated by 2025, workers be given easy access to trade unions and CBAs, workers in one factory be allowed to join trade unions of other factories. It also mentions that cases in the labour court should be disposed of quickly.
However, Bangladesh is lagging behind in implementing the plan, which the EU officials have recently sent a letter about.
A letter, jointly signed by EU's Director General of Trade Ewa Synowiec, Director General of Employment Jordi Curell and Deputy Managing Director for Asia and Pacific Paola Pamaloni, said, "We would like to underline once again the importance of accelerating the date of amending the EPZ Labour Act, a key point expressly raised in the past years and in all our recent meetings in Dhaka."
"Waiting for the implementation of the EPZ Labour Rules is not needed. We therefore look forward to a concrete adjusted timeline for amending the EPZ Labour Act," said the three EU officials.
After the EU's EBA monitoring mission returned from a visit to Bangladesh in March, the EU said in a recent letter to Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, "Following the mission, essential concerns on the labour aspects remain, namely, to meet the commitments in the National Action Plan fully and on time."
In some areas, for such actions as amending the Bangladesh Labour Rules and the EPZ Labour Rules, the timelines have already passed for months. In others, Bangladesh has indicated that it may not meet the timelines as committed in the NAP, such as those on the deployment of all envisaged new labour inspectors.
The EU said it is key to addressing concerns in the area of freedom of expression, including in the digital space, and combating extrajudicial killings and torture and violence against women and marginalized groups.
It is also of great urgency that the European Parliament has been discussing the commission's proposal for a new GSP Regulation, including the vulnerability criteria for accessing the GSP+ arrangement, which the government of Bangladesh has already signalled it is interested in.
"We would like to reiterate that the duty free and quota free imports under the current EBA arrangement of GSP are conditional on compliance with international labour and human rights," added the officials.
Mohammad Hatem, acting president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told TBS that a vested quarter is active in Bangladesh and the USA and is behind the EU's pressure on extrajudicial killings or human rights abuses.
"Bangladesh will have to make some changes in order to get the new GSP, otherwise we will have to suffer over duty-free access to Europe," he added.
A commerce ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told TBS that although Bangladesh had expressed its desire to get GSP Plus from the EU for the past few years, the EU never said anything verbally or in writing. This is the first time that the EU has officially stated in a letter what Bangladesh needs to do since the country is interested in getting GSP Plus.
"We look at it positively. If the roadmap that the government has prepared in the National Action Plan can be implemented in time, it seems that it will be easier to get GSP after 2024 as well as GSP Plus benefits after LDC graduation," added the official.