Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has again called on the United States to extend duty and quota-free access to its apparel exports, suggesting the move would help build a larger and more empowered workforce, and support the fight against extremism and terrorism.  

Speaking at a meeting hosted by the Business Council of International Understanding (BCIU) in Manhattan earlier this week, she said the preferential access would expand Bangladesh's apparel industry – already its largest export earner – and contribute to establishing a modern society.

Apparel is Bangladesh's main export to the US, with the industry employing 4m, of whom 90% are girls from poor families.

"Their earnings have empowered them. Their contributions now provide better nutritional food, allow siblings to go to schools, and give them a respected voice at home. Their empowerment is also helping reduce poverty, control population growth and increase literacy.

"Significantly, this trend is supporting our fight against extremism and terrorism by transforming our society into a progressive one.

"For these efforts to succeed, it is vital for the US to give Bangladesh apparel duty and quota free access to its market. It would expand Bangladesh apparel industry, employ and empower more girls and help establish a modern society," the prime minister said.

She added: "Our two countries' bilateral trade reached US$7bn last year. It could be more if the high tariffs and compliance issues on Bangladeshi apparel to US market were removed."

Even though Bangladesh is a least developed country (LDC), its garment exports are subject to an average 15.6% import duty into the US.

In July the country was also denied re-entry into the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) preferential trade programme for a third year, despite the country's insistence it has made progress in boosting worker rights and improving workplace safety.

Bangladesh denied US GSP re-entry on worker rights

Last month US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Bangladesh to tackle ongoing security issues and the growing threat of terrorism in the country following attacks in Dhaka.

US urges Bangladesh to tackle security issues