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Dhaka set to sign Tifa with Washington

Dhaka set to sign Tifa with Washington

Talks today to sort out minor issues

17 March 2004

Rafiq Hasan, The Daily Star

Bangladesh is set to sign a trade and investment accord with the US aimed to give bilateral trade and commerce a shape, as trade officials of the two countries sit at the commerce ministry today to thrash out some minor outstanding issues.

The draft of Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (Tifa) is now in the final stage and it would be placed at the regular weekly cabinet meeting for final approval once the two sides agree on the terms and conditions of the deal, according to the ministry sources.

The agreement will be signed ’at a convenient time’, the sources said.

Dhaka would seek duty-free access of its goods to the US market, an increase in the number of items eligible for generalised system of preference (GSP) facilities and benefit from the US bill for Middle Eastern countries at today’s talks, the sources said.

A seven-member high-powered delegation headed by Commerce Secretary Suhel Ahmed will sit for the talks. US Assistant Trade Representative Ambassador Ashley Wills, who arrived in Dhaka on a two-day official visit yesterday, will lead the US side.

The chairman of Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (Bepza) has been drafted into the delegation to explain Dhaka’s position on the right of association of the workers at the exclusive industrial zones.

Wills will also meet Commerce Minister Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury at the end of the talks.

There is hardly any unresolved issues that may stand in the way of Tifa signing, as the government has already decided to allow limited trade union activities at the exclusive industrial zones following pressure from the US labour unions, said highly placed government sources.

The commerce ministry at an emergency meeting yesterday put final touches to the draft of the deal. "There are some problems with the wording and phrasing of the agreement that would be sorted out during the official talks," Khosru said after the meeting.

The commerce minister said all trade and commerce-related issues between the two countries would come up at the talks. "Bangladesh would aim to increase the flow of US investment and the number of items eligible for generalised system of preference (GSP) facilities."

This is for the first time a formal platform is going to be set up for regular negotiations and discussions over trade-related issues between the US and Bangladesh, according to commerce ministry sources. The US is the single largest importer of Bangladeshi goods, yet there is no formal trade agreement between the two nations, the sources pointed out.

The US imports over $2 billion worth of goods from Bangladesh every year, while it has invested around $1.2 billion in oil, gas and energy.

Readymade garments, frozen foods, leather and leather goods dominate Bangladesh’s export basket to the US, while Dhaka’s annual import, mainly chemicals and machinery, from that country stands at around $300 million.

The US had offered Bangladesh to sign the agreement in February last year, but a lack of preparation on both sides stalled the process of agreement signing.

Dhaka and Washington exchanged drafts of the agreement several times in last one year on a bid to reach a consensus. The US has Tifa agreement with Sri Lanka in South Asia and a number of countries in the Southeast Asian region.