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Trade gains to depend on human rights, governance

FE REPORT | October 22, 2019 00:00:00

The European Union (EU) reiterated its stance that the continuation of Bangladesh's trade benefits to its market will depend on the condition of human rights and governance in the country.

The EU also raised concerns over the current situation of human rights here, particularly focusing on 'extrajudicial killings', 'enforced disappearances', certain provisions of the Digital Security Act (DSA), and freedom of expression.

The observations were made at the 9th Bangladesh-EU Joint Commission Meeting (JCM), held at the Economic Relations Division (ERD) in Dhaka on Monday.

Paola Pampaloni, Deputy Managing Director of the External Action Service of the EU, led its delegation. Md. Ashadul Islam, Senior Secretary of the Financial Institutions Division under the Ministry of Finance, led the Bangladesh side.

The EU team at the JCM said the human rights issues - especially labour rights, factory safety, civil society's voice, and governance in the country - are very crucial for the sustained economic and trade relations between the two sides.

"The EBA (Everything but Arms) initiative under the EU's Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) facility and any future trade relationship are conditional on the respect of human rights, including labour rights, as reflected in the international conventions listed in the GSP regulations," a statement of the EU said as agreed at the BD-EU JCM.

"Sustained reforms of labour rights standards by the Bangladesh government, and their full alignment with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions on the basis of consensus of tripartite constituents is crucial in this regard," it added.

The EU team in the meeting said good progress has been made in the garment sector factory safety issue. But, many steps are still outstanding in the area of labour rights, and full implementation of the Sustainability Compact is also necessary.

The EU and Bangladesh agreed to develop a roadmap on some issues for strengthening compliance with labour and human rights.

The EU stressed that a fully empowered and resilient civil society, in all its diversity, is a crucial component of democracy.

The JCM reviewed political developments on both sides, and discussed the role of democracy, and the rule of law and good governance, including the importance of holding free and fair elections.

Meanwhile, the EU recalled its political and financial supports to Bangladesh in facing the Rohingya crisis, as the government sought further cooperation of the European countries.

The EU hailed Bangladesh government and its people for their generous and humane role in dealing with the Rohingyas.

It also stressed the need for voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of the distressed people to Myanmar.

When the EU wanted to know about the government's plan of action to relocate the Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char, the Bangladesh side assured that the resettlement will be done on voluntary basis, in which international communities will also be involved.

On the trade issues, both the sides agreed upon strengthening the economic relationship through increased trade and investment flows, for which it is essential to ensure a predictable and transparent business environment for economic operators.

Bangladesh thanked the EU for its annual financial cooperation, amounting to more than Tk 50 billion (Euro 541 million).

The EU also agreed to extend its assistance for the post-2020 cooperation agenda, also taking into account the country's upcoming 8th five-year development plan.

The JCM agreed on the importance of a regular sectoral policy dialogue to accompany long-term reforms and to reinforce the EU-Bangladesh partnership for development cooperation, particularly in the areas of climate change, social protection, human capital and good governance.

Both the sides also agreed to continue working jointly towards implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within a wider framework, which should include other key international partners and the private sector.

The sides also focused on jointly identifying opportunities for supporting investment, including in key environment and climate change-resilient infrastructure.

They agreed that good economic progress and future graduation from the Least Developed Country (LDC) status should give the opportunity to share the benefits of this progress with the poorest and the most vulnerable part of the population.

The JCM also discussed the progress on joint commitments in the context of the EU-Bangladesh Standard Operating Procedures for the Identification and Return of Persons without Authorisation to Stay, and agreed to further enhance cooperation in this area.

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