Bangladesh and other LDC members will likely remain silent in Monday's meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) General Council over Russia's communication in response to Western trade sanctions.
"Two groups [Russia and anti-Russia] of WTO members submitted communications against each other. The documents are circulated for discussion at the WTO General Council (GC). According to the latest notification provided by the GC for its meeting scheduled for 9 May, only the communication from the Russian Federation appears under agenda," said Md Al Amin Parmanik, economic minister at the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh in Geneva, in a letter to the foreign ministry on 4 May.
The WTO deals with trade policy issues but the submissions have political implications. As the agenda suggests, in the forthcoming GC meeting, it is most likely that many members will discuss the conflicting issues from politically sensitive angels, he also said.
The LDC group has been silent on these conflicting issues and no LDC member is making any intervention. Bangladesh may follow the LDC group and many other developing country delegations at the WTO and may remain silent without making any intervention on these issues, he pointed out.
In response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, 13 countries, including those in the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea, imposed trade and investment sanctions against Russia and Belarus.
Later, in support of the sanctions, the WTO issued a joint statement although it goes against its Most Favoured Nation policy, which is based on the idea that countries should treat all their trade partners equally and that no one country should be "more favoured".
Referring to the Russia's communication to the WTO, Russia in a letter to Bangladesh said, "It is unacceptable to restrict the rights and legitimate interests of the Russian Federation within the international trade system, therefore the Russian side calls on the Bangladeshi side to support communication, including through its permanent representative in the WTO."
Hafizur Rahman, director general at the commerce ministry's WTO cell, told The Business Standard on Sunday that Bangladesh will not take sides on Russia's communication in the WTO General Council's meeting. The LDC group might be neutral in this case as well.
In the letter to Bangladesh, Russia said there are voices proposing that Russia be "expelled" from the WTO or its membership rights be suspended against the WTO rules.
Unilateral unjustified withdrawal of the most favoured nation treatment for Russian goods and services or even public discussion about revocation of this treatment severely defies the fundamental WTO principle of non-discrimination, Russia said in the statement.
"Eventually, all members will be affected if we get into a vicious circle of introducing mutual retaliatory measures, thereby making the applicant of WTO agreements largely sporadic and, therefore, deficient," it noted.
Earlier, in the joint statement of the US, the United Kingdom, Norway, North Macedonia, New Zealand, Montenegro, Moldova, South Korea, Japan, Iceland, the EU, Canada and Australia, issued by the WTO on 15 March, the countries said, "We will take any action as WTO members that we consider necessary to protect our essential security interests. These may include actions in support of Ukraine, or actions to suspend concessions or other obligations with respect to Russia, such as the suspension of most-favoured-nation treatment to products and services of the Russian Federation."
The countries that have signed a joint statement against Russia in the WTO are Bangladesh's main export markets. The EU, the US, the UK, Canada and Japan account for more than 70% of Bangladesh's total export earnings. Bangladesh enjoys a duty-free export facility to all these countries except the US.