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[WASHINGTON] The United States said on Friday that it was not ready to restore special trade benefits to Bangladesh until the country does more for worker safety and rights in its crucial apparel sector.
Nearly two years after over 1,100 garment workers were crushed to death in the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building near Dhaka, the US Trade Representative said the Bangladesh government needs to complete inspection of hundreds more plants before the benefits are restored.
Washington removed Bangladesh's benefits under the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) programme two months after the April 2013 disaster, denying the country preferential duty treatment on nearly US$35 million (S$46.4 million) worth of annual exports to the United States.
The measure was limited, in that it did not impact exports from Bangladesh's US$20 billion garment industry.
But it put pressure on the country and many of the world's largest garment and fashion companies, which sourced clothes from Bangladesh manufacturers.
The US said the Bangladesh government had to inspect thousands of factories, shutting those which do not meet safety standards, and address worker rights issues before the GSP privileges would be restored.
The USTR said Friday that more than 2,000 garment sector factories had been inspected by mostly US and European private-sector initiatives under government oversight, resulting in the closure or partial closure of 48 plants.
Even so, it said, "further progress is needed, including to address serious worker rights issues, before reinstatement of Bangladesh's trade benefits." "There is more work to do, building on the collaboration between the government of Bangladesh, private sector stakeholders, and the International Labor Organization, to address the concerns about factory safety in the apparel sector," said US Trade Representative Michael Froman.
"We also urge the government to accelerate its efforts to ensure workers' rights and to take measures to address continuing reports of harassment of and violence against labor activists who are attempting to exercise their rights."