The visiting EU parliamentary delegation has stressed that full implementation of the Labour Roadmap was a precondition for Bangladesh's getting trade facilities under the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) from the economic bloc. Notably, the EU has long been for a uniform labour law for workers both within and outside the Export Processing Zones (EPZs). But so far, the law allows labour unions only outside the EPZs. However, the government is learnt to have assured the EU delegation that the EPZ-related labour laws would soon be amended to meet the government's commitment to this effect. Obviously, as the country will not be eligible for the GSP after 2029 and as it will have to face tougher conditions to qualify for GSP+ at that time, fulfilling the GSP-related preconditions is very urgent for Bangladesh to fast-track its ascension to the next stage of growth as a developing economy.
The EU delegation has also reportedly noted with concern issues like the delay in the amendment of the labour law in full compliance with international standards. At the same time, other issues including shrinking space for civil rights, extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance, use of the Digital Security Act (DSA) and so on were also under review. Evidently, legislation on labour is an issue that cannot be considered in isolation. With it is related a fully-functioning independent judiciary. On this score, the recent creation of the labour court is definitely a step in the right direction.
Understandably, being a pre-election year, these are definitely issues of import, which the EU mission has brought into sharper focus. Since the government is already committed to implementing the Labour Roadmap, there should be no problem meeting the EU delegation's expectations as the economic bloc is the country's one of the largest trade export destinations. And what is at stake here is not just GSP-related issues, but the entire gamut of trade relations with the EU bloc. In fact, Bangladesh will have to implement some 32 international conventions which include those on human rights, labour rights, environment and good governance. Once those are implemented, Bangladesh can enjoy zero-tariff facility for two-thirds of the items on the EU's tariff line.
In line with the EU's stated emphasis on the government's implementing the Labour Road Map has also come the important subject of child labour. Bangladesh is pledge-bound to eliminate child labour by 2025. In that case, the government's matching action to see the end of child labour within the stipulated time would only strengthen the country's position with the EU which has a zero-tolerance policy towards child labour. Side by side with the labour issues, implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) (2019-22) should also be on the government's agenda. Made in collaboration with the UN Women Bangladesh country office, the NAP was initially planned to be implemented in three years.The EU team is also reportedly keen to see that NAP is taken seriously by the government and is implemented by 2026.
These are issues that need to be duly addressed not just because our important trade partners want it, but because it is in Bangladesh's own interest that it should spruce up its image before the world at large. Hopefully, the government would expedite the process of implementing the Labour Road Map and other related issues so it is able to claim its due from the international trade and development partners.