Availing GSP Plus trade facility in European markets

EU presses Bangladesh on labour issues

A reminder says fulfilling pledges must for deal

SYFUL ISLAM | Saturday, 14 May 2022

Fulfilling the commitments on labour-rights issues under the National Action Plan on Labour Sector is urgent for Bangladesh to access the GSP Plus trade facility, the European Commission reminds.

Many of the commitments made by the country, including the amendment of various rules under Bangladesh Labour Act and EPZ Labour Act, remained unmet and the timelines have already passed for months, the commission wrote in a letter Tuesday, sources say.

Under the National Action Plan the executive body of the European Union wants Bangladesh to bring labour laws in compliance with International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards, elimination of child labour by 2025, combating violence against workers, harassment, unfair labour practices, anti-union discrimination, and appointing sufficient number of labour inspectors, among other conditions.

Director-general of trade at the European Commission Ewa Synowiec and two of her colleagues wrote the letter to foreign, labour, and commerce secretaries of Bangladesh following an Everything But Arms (EBA) monitoring mission in Dhaka in mid-March.

"We would like to underline once again the importance of accelerating the date of amending the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) Labour Act, a key point expressly raised in the past years and in all our recent meetings in Dhaka," the letter reads.

The trio mentions that following the mission, essential concerns on the labour aspects remain, especially about meeting the commitments in the National Action Plan fully and on time.

They further wrote that the Bangladeshi secretaries had indicated that they might not meet the timelines as committed in the National Action Plan, like the deployment of all-envisaged new labour inspectors.

"We are also concerned about the pace of taking action to eliminate child labour and about not providing the necessary capacity and structures to ensure an effective industrial safety," they added.

The commission also listed some key points of the National Action Plan that were already raised during the mission in March.

Though these issues are complex also against the background of the pandemic, "Nevertheless, it is of paramount importance to be able to show also to our stakeholders including the European Parliament and the 27 Member States that the commitments made by Bangladesh are being fulfilled on time."

The EC further notes that timely fulfilment of the commitments in the National Action Plan has also been pointed out as being key by the Committee on International Trade of the European Parliament in its session on 20 April 2022.

In the meantime, the letter says, the European Parliament has been discussing the Commission's proposal for a new generalised scheme of preferences (GSP) regulation, including the vulnerability criteria for accessing the GSP- arrangement which the government of Bangladesh has already signalled to be interested in.

"In this context, we would like to reiterate that the duty-free and quota- free imports under the current EBA arrangement of GSP are conditional on compliance with international labour and human rights," they said.

On the protection of human rights, as underlined during the EBA monitoring mission, it is the key to addressing concerns in the area of freedom of expression, including in the digital space, and the combat of extrajudicial killings and torture and violence against women and marginalised groups, they remind.

The commission officials wanted that Bangladesh agree to take on concrete steps to follow up on human-rights concerns in the upcoming interactions-the EU-Bangladesh Joint Commission, the Subgroup on Good Governance and Human Rights, and the newly established Political Dialogue.

Labour secretary Ehsan-E-Elahi could not be reached over the phone for a comment despite several attempts.

Availing concessional-trade facility under the GSP Plus window is considered important for Bangladesh after its graduation from the world's poor-country club dubbed LDCs or least-developed countries by 2026.

syful-is[email protected]