Bangladesh Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed exchanged views with the major retailers of the US at an interactive meeting in New York Yesterday which was followed by his meeting with the Editorial Board of the New York Times at its office in the city.
Terming the Rana Plaza tragedy as a ‘wake-up call’, Minister Ahmed narrated as to how the present Government, in collaboration with the BGMEA, BKMEA, international partners including the USA, ILO, Accord, Alliance and other stakeholders, has been working together to improve the workers’ safety and labour rights in the RMG industry.
The participants who included senior representatives of the major US importers/retailers like Li & Fung, JC Penney, Hudson Bay Company, American Eagle Outfitters, American Apparel and Footwear Association were keen to know the details of the progress made so far in this regard. The Minister regretted that certain quarters tend to downplay the achievements of the country while overplay its negatives. “The booming RMG sector which has turned Bangladesh as the second largest exporter of the RMG in the world has greatly contributed in empowering women and stabilizing the society in a big way”-he added.
The Minister expressed his satisfaction that despite negative propaganda after the Rana Plaza collapse, the RMG export witnessed significant growth for which he deeply appreciated the retailers including the US buyers. The briefing eventually turned into a lively Q & A Session and the Minister responded to various questions raised by the participants and took note of their comments and suggestions.
Following the interactive meeting, the Minister met the Editorial Board of the New York Times(NYT), a reputed daily in the USA.
While touching on the objective of his current visit in USA, Tofail Ahmed shared his experience in meeting the US policymakers including six Congressmen and women, USTR Ambassador Michael Froman and other senior officials in the US Government including Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Catherine A. Novelli and Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal in Washington DC in last two days. He mentioned that it was his earnest desire to see that the rest of the world particularly the Western buyers get the correct perspective of the RMG sector in the country as distorted picture might have misled some quarters about the ground situation in the country. He gave a listing of the significant steps taken by the present government particularly after the Rana Plaza incident while referring to the various reforms and amendments in the regulatory regime, which sets out the issue of the workers safety and labour rights as foremost priorities.
The Bangladesh Minister expressed his disappointment for the suspension of the GSP benefit by the USA while adding that Bangladesh had the rightful claims for it as well as duty free and quota free access of its RMG products in the US market as an LDC. While pinpointing to the firm commitment of the government about safety issues, he added that the measures, ironically though, already resulted in job losses of about 20,000 workers, but assured that they are being compensated and will eventually be re-employed.
The Minister also replied to the queries on some issues including domestic political situation, on-going trial of the war crimes perpetrated in 1971, energy situation etc. among others. Mr. Ahmed urged the US media including the NYT to help project the impressive achievements made in the country.
Muhammad Abdul Muhith, CDA a. i, Bangladesh Embassy in Washington DC, Md. Shameem Ahsan, Consul General of Bangladesh in New York, Brig. Gen. Ali Ahmed Khan, DG (Fire Service), representatives of the BGMEA including its President Atiqul Islam, 1st VP Mohammad Shahidullah Azim, 1st VP BKMEA Mohammad Hatem among others were present in the meetings.