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Tifa draft finalised

Daily Star, Bangladesh

Tifa draft finalised

16 February 2005

Dhaka and Washington through a two-day negotiation ending yesterday finalised the draft of Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (Tifa) paving the way further for creating a platform to talk bilateral trade issues.

The draft now requires approval of the two governments before formal signing of the agreement aimed at promoting bilateral trade and investment.

Emerging from the four-hour talks in the boardroom at commerce ministry yesterday, leader of the US side Betsee E Steelman said, "We’ve made good progress in the last two days’ discussions. We’ve no dispute now. I now need to go back and talk to the government on development in Dhaka for the final agreement."

She declined to give any details of the final draft, saying, "As we’re still in the negotiation process, we don’t like to disclose the contents of the draft."

Steelman, a senior US trade policy advisor for Asia and the Pacific, who is on a five-day visit to Bangladesh, was unable to say when the agreement would be signed.

Emerging from the meeting, commerce ministry Joint Secretary Elias Ahmad, who led the six-member Bangladesh side, said, "The negotiation was fruitful. Once signed, the agreement will create a forum for Bangladesh to discuss trade issues with the US, which we don’t have now."

He said, "As we’re very close to an unanimous text, we don’t need to sit face-to-face any more. We’ll now maintain contact with the US government through email and our embassy in Washington to lead to the agreement signing."

Signing of the Tifa will be a preliminary stage for further preferential trade deals, like a free trade agreement, with Washington, he added.

Like the US team, commerce ministry officials and the Bangladeshi negotiators were also tight-lipped about the contents of the final draft.

When asked, Ahmad also declined to say whether the final draft includes a clause relating to transparency, bribery and corruption that was in the earlier draft prepared by the Office of the US Trade Representative and opposed by the Bangladesh side.

However, sources said Dhaka later softened its stance on the issue.

The US government originally proposed the Tifa to Bangladesh in 2002. An inter-ministerial meeting in January 2003 assigned the commerce ministry to begin negotiations with the US on it. Since then, the two sides have held several rounds of talks and also worked to prepare a draft of the agreement.

According to the draft prepared by US, the areas Tifa is to cover include removal of non-tariff barriers, implementation of intellectual property rights, promotion of trade and private investment, improvement of workers’ rights and pursuing WTO talks on the basis of Doha Development Agenda.

In the draft, the US side proposed that the two governments establish a ’US-Bangladesh Council on Trade and Investment’ under the Tifa. The council is envisaged to meet at least once a year to discuss bilateral trade issues.

US has Tifas with more than a dozen countries including Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Bangladesh enjoys a favourable position in trade with the US. US exported $281 million worth of products to Bangladesh in 2003-04, while it imported $2.3 billion, making a more than $2 billion trade deficit.

US is also the single largest investor in Bangladesh, with total investment topping $1.4 billion, mainly concentrated in the energy and power sector.