US suspends trade benefits for Bangladesh over safety

Written by Reuters | Washington | Updated: Jun 29 2013, 11:27am hrs
US President Barack Obama cut off long-time US trade benefits for Bangladesh on Thursday in a mostly symbolic response to conditions in the country's garment industry that have cost more than 1,200 lives in the past year.

The US move does not directly affect Bangladesh's multi-billion-dollar clothing exports, since garments are not eligible for US duty cuts. But it could prompt the EU into similar action, which would have a bigger impact as Bangladesh's clothing and textiles exports to the EU are duty-free. I have determined that it is appropriate to suspend Bangladesh... because it is not taking steps to afford internationally recognised worker rights to workers in the country, Obama said in a statement.

The government in Bangladesh said it did not expect the move to have an immediate impact on business but feared it would hurt US investment in the country over time.

We are desperately trying to upgrade the situation of our garment factories and we expect assistance, not punitive action, said HT Imam, government adviser to PM Sheikh Hasina.

The factories came under scrutiny after the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory building in April that killed 1,132 people and the Tazreen factory fire in November that killed 112.

This was not a decision taken lightly, US trade representative Michael Froman told reporters. Our goal, of course, is not only to see Bangladesh restore its eligibility for (the trade) benefits, but to see Bangladeshi workers in safe, appropriate work situations.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labour federation, said the decision sent an important message to countries that receive duty-free access to the US market under the Generalized System of Preferences programme. Countries that tolerate dangerous and even deadly working conditions and deny basic workers' rights, especially the right to freedom of association, will risk losing preferential access to the US market, Trumka said.