Labour, environment, IPR left out of TIFA text

NewAge, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Labour, environment, IPR
left out of TIFA text

Clause against corruption in trade,
investment incorporated


9 February 2005

The United States has agreed to Bangladeshs proposal for exclusion of issues related to labour laws, environment and intellectual property rights from the main text of a proposed trade and investment framework agreement the two countries are likely to sign some time this year.

The issues, which featured in the main text of the previous draft, have been included in the preamble of the revised draft, according to sources in the commerce ministry.

The office of the US Trade Representative sent the draft, which has been revised three times so far, to the Bangladesh mission in Washington on January 30. The main text of the draft has seven articles and the preamble 19 points.

The TIFA draft acknowledges that the economic divide, which exists between the US and Bangladesh, should be taken into consideration when the two countries exchange goods and services under any future trading arrangement.

The acknowledgement will pave the path for duty-free or preferential treatment of Bangladeshi products in the US market in future, believes the commerce ministry.

A new clause has, however, been incorporated in the preamble which calls for transparency and elimination of bribery and corruption in international trade and investment.

Betsee E Steelman, a senior US trade policy advisor for Asia and Pacific affairs, is scheduled to arrive on February 13 on a five-day visit to finalise the TIFA draft, said sources in the ministry.

The ministry has, meanwhile, convened a meeting on Thursday to finalise Bangladeshs position on the framework agreement, especially on the clause related to transparency and corruption.

Representatives from major chamber organisations have been invited to the meeting, the sources said.

The two previous rounds of negotiation on the proposed agreement were held in Dhaka in August 2003 and March 2004, attended by the US assistant trade representative, Ashley Wills.

The agreement is expected to be finalised during the visit of the USTR official [Steelman] as the US has addressed all the major concerns Bangladesh raised over the second TIFA draft, a commerce ministry high official told New Age. The framework agreement will be signed some time this year upon approval by the highest forums of the two countries.

Dhaka has pleaded for exclusion of issues related to labour laws, environment and intellectual property rights from the main text of the agreement since the US included them in the first and second TIFA draft.

It also called for acknowledgement of the US-Bangladesh economic divide in the main text in the previous two rounds of talks with a view to ensuring preferential trade facilities for Bangladesh products in future.The preamble of the third draft says labour laws and environment issues should be addressed in line with the law of the respective countries.

Recognising the importance of providing adequate and effective protection and enforcement of workers rights in accordance with each nations own labour laws and of improving the observance of internationally recognised core labour standards, reads the draft, a copy of which has been made available to New Age.

The second TIFA draft stressed introduction of trade union in all areas and mandatory protection of labour rights in line with the international spirit.

The third draft calls for formation of a joint council US-Bangladesh Council on Trade and Investment that will meet at least once a year and at such times as agreed by the two parties [and] may establish joint working groups that may meet concurrently or separately to facilitate its work.

The objective of the council is to monitor trade and investment relations to identify opportunities for expanding trade that may be appropriate for negotiation in an appropriate forum.

The council will hold consultations on specific trade matters, and those investment matters not arising under the relevant bilateral investment treaty, of interest to the parties, reads the draft. It will identify and work toward the removal of impediments to trade and investment flows. Article one of the main text provides for special consideration for Bangladesh at the time of exchanging goods and facilitating services.

The parties affirm their desire to promote an attractive investment climate and expand trade in goods and services consistent with the terms of this agreement. They shall take appropriate measures considering their economies and needs, to encourage and facilitate the exchange of goods and services and to secure favourable conditions for long term development and diversification of trade between the two countries, reads the draft.

The clause considering their economies and needs was not included in the previous TIFA drafts, officials in the commerce ministry told New Age, saying the latest development had taken place at Dhakas insistence.

The acknowledgement of the economic divide between the two countries in the agreement would help Bangladesh to achieve duty-free or preferential treatment for Bangladeshi products in future, a commerce ministry high official told New Age.

The two countries have also reached a consensus on reinforcing multilateral trading system, completing the Doha development agenda, establishing a bilateral mechanism for liberalisation of trade and investment, and promoting of international trade and economic interrelationship.

The US ambassador to Bangladesh, Harry K Thomas, told members of the Economic Reporters Forum during a discussion meeting on Tuesday that economic relations between the two countries would further develop after the signing of the framework agreement. He also termed the agreement a first step towards forging bilateral free-trade area between the US and Bangladesh.

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