Trade officials have said Bangladesh’s apparel industry improved a lot in workplace safety and the government succeeded in meeting most of the compliances of the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR)
A fresh start of White House administration led by Joe Biden triggers hope for Bangladesh to regain the US generalised system of preferences (GSP), suspended after the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse and not revived in the last seven years.
Trade officials have said Bangladesh's apparel industry improved a lot in workplace safety and the government succeeded in meeting most of the compliances of the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). But the GSP suspension remained in force as the Trump administration was "very negative" over this issue.
Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Commerce and Director General of the WTO cell Hafizur Rahman told The Business Standard that the United States will review the GSP programme by June-July this year. Before that, there may be a meeting of the Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (Ticfa) in March-April.
"We would like to send a letter to the United States, requesting the restoration of the GSP facility," he added.
The change in US administration is also being seen as a relief for the global apparel industry.
The industry may now be able to breathe a sigh of relief as it looks forward with more confidence to a government that appears to be less erratic and aggressive in its decision-making, and one that will likely take a more measured and predictable approach to trade policy, says a report of textile news portal just-style.
Bangladesh may take a fresh move for getting US GSP facilities restored, says Dr Mostafa Abid Khan, member (International Cooperation) of the Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission (BTTC).
The tariff commission thinks there will be no major changes in the US trade policies towards China under the new Biden administration.
The US authorities have initiated new inspections on Vietnam as businesses started shifting to that country as an immediate impact of the US-China trade tension.
Bangladesh, despite its dependence on China for raw material supplies, may get some benefits from such a situation.
China is the world's manufacturing hub and it is not possible to manufacture anything without supply from China, Abid pointed out.
Commerce ministry officials said the United States suspended the GSP facility in July 2013 during the tenure of Barack Obama, three months after the Rana Plaza collapse.
Bangladesh signed Ticfa in November that year in the hope of getting the trade facility restored.
When the Trump administration took office in 2016, Bangladesh strongly demanded the restoration of GSP benefits in a Ticfa meeting after implementing the action plans given by the United States.
US officials who attended the meeting told the Bangladesh side that there was no chance of restoring the GSP benefits during Trump's tenure.
For four years since then, Bangladesh has never directly proposed the reinstatement of the GSP facility at the Ticfa meeting.
But now that Biden has taken charge, Bangladesh is hoping to restore the facility.
Dr Mostafa Abid Khan said Bangladesh already submitted an informal note to get duty-free market access for apparels made from US cotton.
Now Bangladesh could issue a formal letter to the new administration for this advantage; if they allow, it would be win-win for both countries, added the trade expert.
Joe Biden's plan to appoint Katherine Tai as US Trade Representative is also seen as a welcome move, though it is unlikely that the US stance on China will soften any time soon.
Being a trade lawyer and adviser on international trade matters, Tai may take "more peaceful approach" to global trade.
The new Biden administration may consider rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in some format to showcase the US presence in the Asia-Pacific region to counter the impact of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Reached in November 2020, the RCEP brings together the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) plus Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, with members responsible for half of the world's textile and apparel exports, worth around $374bn. Many are also key apparel sourcing bases for US fashion brands.
The private think tank Research and Policy Integration for Development (RAPID) Chairman Dr Mohammad Abdur Razzaque said one challenge Biden administration will be facing is to redefine its Asia-Pacific Strategy.
Under President Obama's "Pivot-to-Asia" strategy, the US developed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trading bloc, which however could not be materialised after President Trump's policy reversals. So, the question is if the TPP in some format will be revived again. The emergence of the RCEP in the meantime with China playing a central role has caused a setback for US foreign policy engagements in Asia.
The problem for the United States is also that it will have to determine the way of addressing the issues related to the World Trade Organization. And, this will have implications for its dealing with China.
Many observers in the US believe that because of the current rules-based WTO trading system, China has benefited most and has emerged as a global economic power rivalling the United States. They also think that the WTO system has failed to tackle such issues as state capitalism, currency manipulations, weak labour standards, lack of enforcement of intellectual property rights, benefiting China. Therefore, the US is likely to continue to press for WTO reforms, said Dr Mohammad Abdur Razzaque also Director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRI).
However, the US vision of any future trade and multilateralism architecture is not clear yet.
It is possible that a paradigm change can take place within the WTO process or even outside.
But, that can also lead to a messy and lengthy process with global rules and regulations being vague and unclear.