Since achieving independence in 1971, Bangladesh has been a strong friend and ally of the United States. Once defined by humanitarian help and development support, the relationship between the United States and Bangladesh is now firmly based on bilateral trade and investment. Today, Bangladeshi products find their way into virtually every American household.
Despite this, Bangladesh still lacks unfettered duty-free access to U.S. markets and Bangladeshi workers are paying the price. In fact, U.S.-Bangladeshi trade is more restrictive than ever before. Until 2013, Bangladesh, like many of its neighbors in the region, including Pakistan, enjoyed trade privileges under a preferential U.S. trade program. But even then only 1 percent of Bangladesh’s exports to the U.S. enjoyed duty-free status. Today, even fewer goods can enter the United States without heavy duties, which ultimately cuts directly into the wages of the very workers the U.S. says it wants to protect.
Congress should expand duty-free access to all Bangladeshi imports to the United States.
The U.S. withdrew trade privileges in 2013 following a deadly garment factory disaster in Dhaka. At the time, President Obama said his goal was to “afford internationally recognized workers’ rights to workers in the country,” and he got the attention of Bangladesh’s political leadership. In the years since, Bangladesh has demonstrated its commitment to continued improvements in worker health and safety.
Workers in Bangladesh enjoy internationally recognized workers’ rights. Among other reforms, Bangladesh has restructured its labor laws to guarantee freedom of association and collective bargaining and to ensure occupational safety and health. As a result, there are now more than 350 trade unions in Bangladesh. In addition, more than 3,000 factories have been inspected for structural, electrical and fire safety. Bangladesh has hired 200 additional factory inspectors and implemented a rigorous training program for the industrial police. Coupled with the creation of a public database as a platform for reporting safety violations in the garment sector, these reforms have drastically reshaped workers’ rights in Bangladesh.
Denying duty-free access to Bangladesh also impairs Bangladesh’s ability to help the U.S. fight terror. The poor in Bangladesh and elsewhere are frequently targeted by terrorist recruiters. If Bangladeshis have more economic options, in part created by better trade with the U.S., they will be tougher prey for terrorists.-The Washington Times