The Financial Express

EU ombudsman's rule a breather

Published: April 04, 2020 18:26:29 | Updated: April 05, 2020 22:17:34

EU ombudsman's rule a breather

The clouds that gathered over the complaint made to the EU Ombudsman by some international labour right groups against the European Commission (EC) for the latter's alleged failure to initiate the procedure to temporarily withdraw trade preferences granted to Bangladesh under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), have dispersed. Thanks to the EU Ombudsman's dismissal of the labour right bodies' contention that the EC had failed to act or that it was being arbitrary. 

The EU Ombudsman's rule could not come at a more appropriate time when the country's economy has been passing through uncertain times as a result of the crisis triggered by Covid-19. Though Bangladesh's prime exportable items -- the various garment products, are at the moment facing the most crucial challenges posed by the global pandemic as it has severely disrupted the supply chains abroad, the country is still hoping for better days ahead if only for the continued assurances and goodwill that have been extended to us by the EU, especially to our export industry. At such a time of misgivings, the EU Ombudsman's endorsement of the EC's stance so far on the question of Bangladesh being on the right track on compliance issues is indeed reassuring.   

 However, the EU Ombudsman's rule or the EC's positive notions about our compliance though relieving leaves little room for complacence. For, the EC, while explaining its position to the Ombudsman has also noted that on the issue of (Bangladesh's)  compliance, its (EC's) present approach was one of 'persuasion through dialogue, and that the option of 'initiating the procedure of withdrawal of preferences remained open.' 

In that case, the developments merit to be appreciated critically. We have to be careful about keeping to the norms, especially on compliance issues if we are to continue enjoying the duty exemption facilities for our exports in the EU markets. And that is more so given that the EU has also offered to continue our preferential trading status with it for three more years after 2024 when Bangladesh is expected to graduate as a developing nation. Therefore, our stakes are high in reciprocating the support that our European partners in trade have extended to us through our performances, for example, by way of improving the working conditions of the garment workers in the factories, duly addressing their grievances over their pays and various entitlements, creating an atmosphere where workers can communicate with their employers about their issues in an atmosphere of trust without going for frequent street protests. 

Improvement of the standards in our RMG units is not simply a matter of keeping the facilities now being enjoyed by us under GSP intact. GSP apart, we have also to face the challenge of fulfilling the preconditions for graduation to the status of a developing economy by 2024. In that case, our factories would be required to meet more stringent conditions in terms of  further upgrading the overall work culture and the quality of life in the factories. 

In the circumstances, we should consider the EU ombudsman's decision and the complaint by labour rights bodies that led to it as a wake-up call to get our act together.  The pandemic situation now obtaining around obliges us to attend to the more immediate issue of saving people's lives from the virus. Even so, we should at least have the psychological preparations with the hope that good times are around the corner.

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