Dilemma over trade strategy with US if TPP goes finally

Dhaka,  Sat,  03 December 2016
Published : 02 Dec 2016, 00:31:15

Dilemma over trade strategy with US if TPP goes finally

Bilateral FTA or restoring GSP?
Dilemma over trade strategy with US if TPP goes finally
Asjadul Kibria


A trade expert of the country has urged the policymakers to seriously consider striking a bilateral free trade agreement (BFTA) with the United States (US).

Manzur Ahmed, trade policy adviser to the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), put forward the suggestion in a note prepared for the apex trade body.

As the US President-elect Donald Trump asserted last week he would pull the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal on the first day of his office, the FBCCI adviser thought that it would be a welcoming move for Bangladesh.

"Bangladesh should welcome the move and without wasting time on GSP or WTO Duty-Free Quota Free Market Access (DFQFMA) and immediately take up a pro-active initiative in establishing a bilateral free-trade arrangement with the US," he said.

The Obama administration has suspended the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) for Bangladesh in 2013 after the Rana Plaza disaster that claimed lives of more than 1,100 workers, mainly of garment industry.

"The terms of BFTA in goods, services and investment with the US should be without prejudice to the rights and obligations under the WTO agreements and respective international rights and obligations as agreed in Bangladesh-US TICFA," he added.

The bilateral trade between the two countries stood at $7.22 billion in the last fiscal year (FY16) which was $6.47 billion in FY15. Moreover, FDI from the US doubled in the last fiscal year to about $450 million from nearly $225 million in FY15.

Mr Ahmed viewed that Bangladesh has already a very liberal services, public procurement and investment policy regime open on MFN basis under its domestic regulations.

Professor Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), however, differed with the suggestion, saying: "It's too early to do so."

He said that 'the country is not in a position' to sign any bilateral trade deal with the US 'at this moment' or even in the 'near future.'

"It is true that Donald Trump asserted for bilateral deals and so countries like Vietnam may move in that direction," said the trade experts. "But, Vietnam has already done a hectic exercise of TPP and so they are mentally ready to sign FTA with the US."

The economist cautioned that bilateral trade deal with the US would be tied with a lot of stringent conditions like labour standard, product standard and intellectual property (IP) rights issues.

"Bangladesh is still far behind in these areas. So, we have to improve our standards and make IP regime stronger," he suggested.

Regarding US's potential pull out of the TPP, the CPD executive director said that it would bode well for Bangladesh as the country's apparel exports would not then face uneven competition with Vietnam in the US market.

"So, there is a temporary relief for Bangladesh," he said. "There is, however, a chance that other 11 member countries of the TPP may strike a deal among themselves. In that case, Bangladeshi readymade garments will face some additional competition in the markets of Australia, Canada and Japan."

Aftab-ul-Islam, former president of the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) in Bangladesh, also differed with the proposal of BFTA with the US as he thought that the country's export basket is quite narrow.

"BFTA with the US may open the duty-free regime for the apparel sector," he said. "But, depending on a single product, we may not be able to tap the full benefit of the free trade agreement."

He, however, opined that the US's potential coming out of the TPP will be a great relief for Bangladesh.

"If the TPP is implemented, Bangladesh would lose the level playing field, especially to Vietnam, in the apparel export markets," he added.

 The business leader also expressed optimism that trade and business with the US may be easier in the coming days as Mr Trump himself is a businessman and 'knows where the shoe pinches.'

So, Bangladesh should engage more in active economic diplomacy to get better deal in terms of bilateral trade, said Mr Islam.

Both Prof Mustafiz and Mr Islam suggested Bangladesh to initiate fresh talks with the new team of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to restore the GSP.

    asjadulk@gmail.com
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