bdnews24 | 15 October 2020
Bangladesh and US begin discussions in Dhaka to explore FTA option
Bangladesh and the US have begun discussions to explore possibilities of a Free Trade Agreement as part of efforts on economic recovery from the depths of the coronavirus pandemic.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam spoke to reporters about the development after his meeting with Stephen Beigun, the US deputy secretary of state, at a hotel in Dhaka on Wednesday night.
Shahriar said he sought support from the US under its Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development or BUILD Act for faster recovery from the pandemic affects.
Beigun pointed out that the size of Bangladesh’s trade is bigger than those of the countries getting US support under the Act, according to Shahriar.
“It can be a Free Trade Agreement. He has encouraged us to discuss it,” the state minister said.
The US is helping some countries recover from economic shock through the Act, which states the US International Development Finance Corporation will give "preferential consideration to projects sponsored by or involving private sector entities that are United States persons”.
Asked about Bangladesh’s facilities from the US under the Generalised System of Preference or GSP, Shahriar said they would discuss the issue when the benefits end on Dec 30. “Maybe there will be a new mechanism. And they are holding elections by this time,” he pointed out.
Beigun noted in the meeting that the size of Bangladesh’s economy and the people’s purchasing capacity have increased much.
“Considering these things overall, he (Beigun) said we can aim for something bigger. That’s when the free trade issue came,” Shahriar said.
The US deputy secretary arrived in Dhaka on Wednesday afternoon on a three-day visit following his India tour.
The US diplomat will see Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the Ganabhaban on Thursday noon after a meeting with Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen at State Guesthouse Padma.
The state minister said Bangladesh invited the US to explore onshore and offshore gas fields.
The progress Bangladesh has achieved in the sector has pleased Beigun who noted that a Bangladeshi firm has chartered floating storage and regasification unit or
FSRU from US-based Excelerate Energy to import LNG.
He also promised to try to pursue more US firms to work in Bangladesh’s energy sector.
Besides readymade garment, Bangladesh discussed export of jute and jute products, and partnership in shipbuilding, ICT, pharmaceuticals, shoe and leather and IT-based services.
Beigun detailed the progress in trials of coronavirus vaccine candidates in the US. He assured Bangladesh of support in getting the vaccines once the US goes into large-scale production, the state minister said.
A former special envoy to North Korea, Biegun’s engagements in Bangladesh would focus on advancing the “common vision of a free, open, inclusive, peaceful, and secure Indo-Pacific region with shared prosperity for all”, the state department had said earlier.
Shahriar said they did not discuss the specifics of the issue in the meeting.
“We reiterated our stand that we always want an open and inclusive region based on shared prosperity for mutual benefits."
On whether he discussed the complexities over visa of the Bangladeshis willing to study in the US, Shahriar said, “They (the US) are taking time. But discussions will continue.”
DHAKA DOESN’T WANT LONG-TERM ROHINGYA PLANS
The Bangladeshi officials said in the meeting that they are not interested in long-term plans on the Rohingya who have fled persecution and military crackdown in Myanmar to take shelter in Bangladesh.
The US and the UK have invited Bangladesh to discuss a joint response programme on the around 1 million Rohingya refugees on Oct 22, Shahriar said.
“But we don’t want the long-term programme to be lengthier, because our main target is to send the Rohingya back,” he said.
The US deputy secretary mentioned the sanctions on Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis.
He also said they will engage with Myanmar on the issue anew after elections in both countries. The US is going to the general election on Nov 3 while Myanmar on Nov 8.
Beigun is set to pay respect to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the memorial museum in Dhanmondi on Thursday morning.