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Trade, polls top agenda of US-BD FOC meeting

Mir Mostafizur Rahaman | January 17, 2019 00:00:00

Trade and investment promotion as well as the December 30 general election will be high on the agenda of the US-Bangladesh foreign office consultation (FOC) meeting, to be held in Washington on January 22.

"From our side the main agenda will be how to woo more US investment in Bangladesh. Political issues will also be discussed," a senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) told the FE on Wednesday.

Foreign Secretary M SHahidul Haque will lead the Bangladesh delegation in the meeting. The US delegation will be led by David Hally, Assistant Secretary for Asia Pacific, said the official, preferring not to be named.

Bangladesh will urge the US to invest more in the country, particularly in energy sector and in the export processing zones (EPZs).

The US has concerns regarding trade barriers, investment climate and labour issues. The MoFA has prepared papers on these issues to allay the US concerns, officials said.

Bangladesh is currently the 52nd largest trading partner of the US, having a bilateral trade volume of US$7.2 billion as on 2017.

The US exports to Bangladesh totaled $1.5 billion last year, while it imported products worth $5.7 billion. The US-Bangladesh goods trade deficit was $4.2 billion in favour of Bangladesh.

The US is the single biggest market for local exports, and the country is the largest investor in Bangladesh.

The US is interested to increase the sales of its goods and services in Bangladesh. The country is likely to discuss additional opportunities for its companies, especially those which are supporting infrastructure development in Bangladesh.

Dwelling on the trade issues from the US side, US Ambassador Earl R Miller recently pointed out that unfair trade barriers manifest themselves in a variety of ways, including high tariffs, unnecessary or arbitrary regulations, biased tendering processes, cumbersome customs procedures, and corruption.

The MoFA officials said they are aware of the US concerns, and will assure the US side of resolving these issues.

Besides, Bangladesh has prepared a brief on the recent general election, held in the country last month. The main theme of the brief will be fairness of the election.

The US side will be told that it was a participatory election, where people could freely exercise their voting rights, the officials also said.

Senior officials of MoFA recently met the top officials of the Election Commission (EC) to collect information in favour of their argument regarding fairness of the election.

In the post-poll reaction the US said, "We note with concern credible reports of harassment, intimidation, and violence in the pre-election period that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely."

"We are also concerned that election-day irregularities prevented some people from voting, which undermined faith in the electoral process," it added.

Apart from these, Bangladesh's role in the Trump administration's Indo-Pacific Strategy may also be discussed, the officials noted.

In recognition of Bangladesh's valuable role in supporting the Indo-Pacific Strategy, the US recently announced to provide the country $40 million funds to improve coastal radar system, modernise and enhance patrol boat fleet, and provide training for expanding maritime capacity.

Meanwhile, the US officials recently pointed out that a big hurdle for Bangladesh's RMG is the workers' rights issue, where progress has lagged in recent years.

The US urged Bangladesh to make necessary and relevant legislative changes as soon as possible to address its concern over the labour rights issue in RMG sector.

They also felt continuing to delay action, especially as consumers pay increasingly more attention to the labor issues in their buying decisions, threatens to undermine the country's reputation and increases the risk that international buyers will begin to look elsewhere.

"However, Bangladesh will not raise the labour issue in the meet. If the US raises it, we are ready to brief them about our progress," the MOFA officials further said.

Since the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) issue has already been discussed in Trade and Investment Cooperation Framework Agreement (TICFA), chances to have detailed discussion on it is very low.

The issue may be placed in the US-Bangladesh partnership dialogue, expected to be held a couple of months later, they added.

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