Dhaka sees a ray of hope for Rohingya repatriation and restoring Generalised System of Preferences facilities as new US President Joe Biden is focusing on promoting democratic institutions, human rights and is supportive of the developing countries’ causes.
“Our expectation from the Biden administration is indeed reasonably higher and we believe the US will again lead the world in achieving core values and principles,” said Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen.
He said Biden appears to be more supportive of the causes of the developing world — climate change, trade facilitation, Covid-19 response and migration.
Bangladesh, being a developing country, has been suffering from the Rohingya crisis and now faces the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, including loss of millions of jobs.
“The good news is, there are indications that the new administration will look into the issue of genocide in the Rakhine state and hopefully will proactively take action for their safe return,” Momen said during a webinar on US-Bangladesh Relationship organised by the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) yesterday.
There are about a million Rohingyas who fled military atrocities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2017 and are now sheltered in Bangladesh.
At the event, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen said issues like democratic institution building, human rights, media freedom, labour rights and rule of law would be prioritised by the new US administration.
“A more human rights-based approach by the new US administration might provide new impetus in resolving the Rohingya crisis, principally through stronger political involvement but also through extended humanitarian support.
“We have already witnessed early indications in this regard through initiation of genocide investigation, and this might continue through more stringent measures by the US to compel Myanmar to comply with its international human rights and humanitarian obligations.”
Momen said Bangladesh and the US have excellent trade relations and that has been proven even during the pandemic when Bangladesh supplied 6.5 million PPEs to the US market.
Over 90 percent of Bangladesh’s exports to the US is readymade garments, but it faces nearly 15.6 percent tariffs on average.
“Since the pandemic, to assist hard-hit US consumers of garments, the US may put a moratorium on its tariffs to Bangladesh exports for a period of three years and this will surely help,” he said.
BEI President M Humayun Kabir said the US discontinued GSP following the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. Today, as the US Congress will soon revise the GSP policy, it should reconsider providing facilities to Bangladesh. In that case, both the Bangladesh and the US can benefit.
As the new Biden administration is returning to the multilateral forums, including the World Health Organization and the Paris accord, it is time Bangladesh identified all areas of cooperation and take the relationship to a higher level, he said.
Centre for Policy Dialogue Chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan said there is a possibility for Bangladesh to take its exports to the US to $15 billion from $5 billion today if GSP facilities are restored.
He said relations with the US will depend on the trade. China has been expanding its footprint in Asia through trade and investment, and the US should also do the same.
Prime Minister’s Private Sector Industry and Investment Adviser Salman F Rahman said as trade privileges would not exist after Bangladesh graduates from the LDC category by 2024, the businesses should prepare accordingly to face the challenges.
He said it is more a communication problem than a problem of human rights or labour rights violations as “we have zero tolerance on corruption, human rights and terrorism”.
He said there are “vested quarters” behind this and added, “We should be careful about them.”
US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Earl R Miller, said the US and Bangladesh will work together to fight the Rohingya crisis, human trafficking and climate change threats.
There is immense untapped potential of trade, he said, adding that many US companies are keen to invest in Bangladesh. They, however, look at the issues of labour rights, business environment and human rights.
“Democratic institutions, human rights, civil society and media remain key partners in our dynamic relationship,” Miller said.
Former Ambassador Farooq Sobhan, who presented the keynote paper, said with Biden in power, there is more scope for cooperation and Bangladesh needs to identify the areas of cooperation and work accordingly.
He emphasised that more high-level political engagement is crucial to strengthen the relationship.