September 23, 2013
By Nazmul Ahsan
Dhaka has rejected Washington’s proposal for the signing of the Trade and Investment Cooperation Framework Agreement during the visit of the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, to the Untied States to attend the UN General Assembly.
Hasina left Dhaka for New York on Sunday to attend the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in New York beginning September 24. She is scheduled to return on September 30, foreign ministry officials said.
The foreign ministry in the past week communicated its position on TICFA to the office of the United States Trade Representative after it had sought to know of Bangladesh’s stand, a diplomat said.
‘TICFA signing will not take place during the current visit of the prime minister to the United States,’ Mahfuzur Rahman, director general of the foreign ministry, told New Age on Sunday. ‘We are yet to decide the signing although the cabinet has approved the draft.’
An official in the Bangladesh mission in Washington said that a USTR delegation had visited their office early September and requested TICFA signing during Hasina’s visit.
‘We informed the foreign ministry of the matter and the ministry rejected the proposal,’ a diplomat in the Bangladesh mission in Washington told New Age on Sunday over telephone.
A high foreign ministry official said that they had told the USTR office that the commerce minister at a convenient time might sign the deal with the US authorities as the issue involved the commerce ministry.
The commerce minister, GM Quader, is not part of the entourage of Hasina in for her visit to the Untied States.
A trade official, however, said that any ministry or Bangladesh’s ambassador to the United States could sign the proposed agreement if the government so decided.
But ‘the government might seek some advantages from the United States before signing the agreement. It can be considered a trade-off,’ a senior commerce ministry official said.
This could be a government tactic to ensure a soft
stand of the Untied States on an election-time government or to minimise US interest towards noble laureate Muhammad Yunus,’ another commerce ministry official, involved in the TICFA negotiation process for long, told New Age.
The commerce ministry earlier sought a mandate from the foreign ministry to sign the deal as the Foreign Office has not acted on this for long.
The cabinet approved the TICFA draft in June about two years after the foreign ministry had put a tab on the commerce ministry move for signing the agreement, a trade diplomat said.
The cabinet had approved the draft two weeks before the US administration suspended GSP facilities for Bangladeshi products for a failure to uphold labour standards and safety issues in the apparel sector.
The commerce ministry should deal with the issue, Mahfuzur Rahman told New Age.
The TICFA draft aims at expanding trade, improving technology and enhancing economic ties between the two countries. It also promises to uphold WTO provisions on TRIPS and other international agreements.
The draft envisages a United States-Bangladesh forum on trade and investment which will, meeting at least once a year, monitor trade and investment relations, identify opportunities for trade and investment expansion, consider specific trade and investment matters, remove obstacles to trade and investment, seek private sector and civil society advice on its matters.
TICFA has provisions for upholding workers’ interest and protect basic labour rights.
Source: New Age BD