2 months ago

No backtracking on LDC graduation

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Despite various challenges, Bangladesh will not seek to delay its scheduled graduation from the least-developed country (LDC) club, which is slated for November 2026.

This was affirmed by a senior policymaker at a discussion in Dhaka on Thursday.

"We will not backtrack, we will continue to move forward," said Dr Mashiur Rahman, economic affairs advisor to the prime minister.

"Instead, we will redouble our efforts to prepare for the post-graduation period, which is a new dimension for us," he added. "Seeking an extension would be an admission of defeat."

"The nation will move ahead and the world will see that we keep our word," he continued.

Dr Rahman made these statements in response to audience questions about the possibility of delaying graduation, considering the loss of international support measures once the LDC tag is removed.

The PM's advisor, however, acknowledged that the country should opt for early and adequate preparation for the post-graduation period. "We have already wasted some time, and we must work hard to recover," he said.

Dr Mashiur Rahman was speaking as the chief guest at a knowledge-sharing session on '13th Ministerial Conference of the WTO: What Stakes for Bangladesh?' held in Dhaka.

The event was organised by the local think-tank Research and Policy Integration for Development (RAPID).

Moderated by Dr MA Razzaque, chairman of RAPID, the session also featured welcome remarks by Dr M Abu Eusuf, a Dhaka University professor and also the executive director of RAPID.

Dr Eusuf noted that Bangladesh's upcoming graduation from LDC status presented an opportunity to engage with other WTO members at the Thirteenth WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in the last week of February.

This, he said, could help ensure a smooth transition, particularly by securing extended trade benefits and support measures for a few years more after graduation.

Dr Mostafa Abid Khan, a former member of the Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission, delivered the keynote speech.

He identified fisheries subsidies negotiations, reform of the WTO's dispute settlement system, a permanent solution for the public stockholding programme, disciplines on export restrictions and the e-commerce moratorium as key issues for the upcoming WTO ministerial meeting.

"A deal prohibiting capacity-building support for fisheries would be critical for Bangladesh, as sustainability in this sector is vital for the country," Dr Abid explained. "While the draft text offers more flexibility for top-20 subsidising countries, it proposes stricter provisions for others."

"Negotiations are ongoing to allow LDCs, including Bangladesh, to continue subsidies for a few more years," he argued. "Securing an extension of international support mechanisms for graduating LDCs will be challenging."

Professor Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), was the session's special guest.

He noted that the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom (UK) and Canada agreed to extend tariff-free market access to all the graduating LDCs for three years, but the United States (US) currently lacks LDC-specific trade benefits.

The economist urged Bangladesh to consider its triple status during negotiations: current LDC, graduating LDC and future non-LDC developing nation.

"Our decisions today will impact us tomorrow," he said. "It is crucial to understand the strategies of current developing countries like Brazil and India."

Ms Sharifa Khan, a former senior secretary of the Economic Relations Division (ERD) under the Ministry of Finance, attended the session as a guest of honour.

She argued that over 90 per cent of medicines and drugs used in Bangladesh were off-patent and would not be affected by the discontinuation of the patent waiver facility after 2026.

"However, challenges will arise for new drugs," she added.

Ms Khan also noted that Bangladesh would lose access to trade benefits, once it becomes an upper-middle-income country in 2031 or later.

Shawkat Hossain Masum, head of online at Prothom Alo and Asjadul Kibira, planning editor of The Financial Express, were the designated discussants for the session.

The 13th Ministerial Conference of the WTO (MC13) will take place from February 26-29 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

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