Since the November 2012 and early 2013 factory fires and allegations of maltreatment to labor and labor right leaders in Bangladesh, Global and local rights groups called upon the apparel industry leaders and owners to ensure safety standards in the garment industries after the blaze. In unanimity with the global community, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) moved forward to investigate progress in terms of fire safety and workplace standards, followed by a petition submitted by the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) to consider withdrawiing the Generalized System of Preference (GSP) facility from Bangladesh which can adversely affect the biggest export industry, employer and foreign currency earning sector of Bangladesh.
In response, the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) in late January sent a position paper to the USTR on the country’s labour issues and possible negative implication should GSP facility be withdrawn.
The government has formed a 15-member delegation, headed by Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed, to appear in the hearing before the USTR in Washington . The hearing will focus on a petition seeking cancellation of Generalised System of Preference (GSP) facility for Bangladeshi goods exported to the US market. Bangladesh would present its case to convince the US to continue GSP facilities in favor of Bangladesh.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved the list of delegation members, who will leave Dhaka for the US on March 26 next to participate in the hearing before United States Trade Representative (USTR) to be held on March 28, a commerce ministry official said.
Representatives from public, private sectors and trade unions have been included in the delegation.
The hearing by the United States Trade Representative (USTR) on the continuation of GSP (generalized system of preferences) benefits for Bangladesh will be held in Washington on March 28 . GSP is a program with very specific statutory requirements, one of which concerns labour standards. There are a number of issues raised in the petition that have remained unresolved. There is reason for a level of concern that if there is no ability to address those issues in the coming weeks, it could jeopardize continuance of the GSP eligibility (Eric Biel, ILAB) .
Apart from extending US offer to support Bangladesh in fire safety mechanisms, Biel expressed the greatest concern of Washington in this trip to be: “Trade Union Registration”, “Fire Safety in the Apparel Sector”, “Criminal Proceedings against some labor rights leaders” and most importantly, the progress of the murder case of a labor organizer Mr. Aminul Islam.
Biel also emphasized on Washington’s need to get more information on the Export Processing Zones (EPZ) of Bangladesh which operate on a different legal structure, on this matter which he termed as a “Fact Finding Trip” on his press conference in Dhaka on 26 February 2013.
The generalised system of preferences for Bangladesh exports to the US market has no political aspect (US Department of Labour).
“It is a legal process, a statutory process — and not a political process by any means. It is a process that primarily involves trade policy agencies,” said Eric Biel, acting associate deputy undersecretary of the Bureau of International Labour Affairs (ILAB).
As Bangladesh gears up to meet Washington with its delegation to protect the GSP facility it currently enjoys, it is also considering a possible amendment of the Labour Law 2006 and implementation of the Better Work Program for the garment workers with the support of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
 ILAB is an operating unit of the US Department of Labour which manages the department’s international responsibilities.