Dhaka set to resume TIFA talks with Washington

Khawaza Main Uddin and Raheed Ejaz, NewAge, January 26, 2009

Dhaka will now resume the pending talks with Washington on striking a deal called Trade and Investment Framework Agreement as new governments in both Bangladesh and the United States have assumed office.

The commerce minister, Faruk Khan, said the Awami League-led government was ready to resume the suspended negotiations on the proposed agreement when the US ambassador to Bangladesh, James F Moriarty, called on him in the ministry on Sunday.

‘We are going to resume TIFA talks based on an already prepared position paper soon after necessary exercise at the government’s political level,’ the minister told reporters when he was asked about the signing of the agreement.

If such an agreement is signed, the two countries will constitute a joint council on trade and investment to cover a wide range of issues such as intellectual property, labour and environment, and cooperation in the area of small and medium enterprises.

Dhaka responded positively to Washington’s interests in signing such an agreement, the minister said. The United States and Bangladesh governments in 2003 began talks on the framework agreement to cover wide-ranging trade and investment issues.

‘It [agreement] will be helpful for Bangladesh to increase both trade and investment,’ Moriarty said after his meeting with the law, justice and parliamentary affairs minister, Shafique Ahmed, at the secretariat.

Asked if the proposed framework agreement would help to increase the flow of foreign direct investment into Bangladesh from the United States and reduce tariff on Bangladeshi exports to US market, Moriarty said, ‘Yes, it will help both. The [Bangladesh] government is closely working on it [draft of the agreement].’

In reply to a question on potential benefits from the agreement, the commerce minister said any enhanced economic and trade cooperation between the two countries would benefit Dhaka more than Washington.

Faruk said the trends of bilateral trade, especially exports from Bangladesh to the United States, looked healthy despite the recession which hit the US market first before spilling over to Europe, Japan and elsewhere in the world.

He hoped the new administration of the US president, Barack Obama, would pursue the bill in the US congress for its passage to provide least developed countries such as Bangladesh with duty- and quota-free market access.

Asked what concrete steps the US government would take to implement its pledged 97 per cent market access of goods and commodities from LDCs, especially Bangladesh, the minister said such concession should be covered by an agreement, which, he ‘will require detailed discussion within a country and between the two sides as well.’

As for opposition to the proposed agreement from different quarters, Moriarty said the decision on agreements such as this should be taken based on its merit and welfare of the people although debates on and opposition to a proposal were the ‘glories of democracy.’

In Dhaka, there are fears of strict compliance with US rules and regulation as well as of imposition of tougher conditions on Bangladesh if the country enters into such an agreement with the world’s most powerful nation.

‘Such an agreement will be contrary to multilateralism which weaker countries such as Bangladesh should follow. Failing at the World Trade Organisation forum, the United States wants to exploit the weaknesses of smaller countries through bilateral agreement such as TIFA,’ said Anu Muhammad, professor of economics in Jahangirnagar University.

He insisted on the government’s making the agreement draft content public and being transparent in the process before striking the deal. The commerce ministry officials said one of the contentious issues surrounding the TIFA talks was the US proposal to include a clause on ‘corruption and bribery’ into the agreement draft.

The issue could not be resolved during the interim and also the BNP-led alliance government. The latest and third rounds of negotiation on TIFA were held in Dhaka in February 2005, preceded by two other rounds in March 2004 and August 2003.

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