The second annual meeting of a forum set up to expand bilateral trade and investment between the US and Bangladesh has focused on issues including Bangladeshi efforts to improve worker safety and worker rights – seen as key to helping restore preferential tariffs for exports from the Asian country.

Discussions at this week's Trade and Investment Cooperation Framework Agreement (TICFA) Council covered a range of topics, including worker rights and workplace safety under the GSP Action Plan and the Bangladesh Sustainability Compact.

The TICFA was signed in November 2013 and came into force in January of the following year. Its introduction followed the suspension of Bangladesh's eligibility for tariff benefits under the GSP programme, which was blamed on insufficient progress by the country on worker rights. This was then followed by an action plan from the USTR on worker rights and safety, which if implemented, could lead to a GSP reinstatement.

Apparel and textiles are not part of the GSP scheme, which largely cover imports of tobacco, sports equipment, porcelain and plastic products. But efforts to improve worker safety in the sector were seen as key to restoring the programme.  

Also on the agenda at this week's TICFA talks were trends in the investment climate in Bangladesh; capital controls; and opportunities for investment in and cooperation with Bangladesh in several areas, including the development of infrastructure and energy resources.

According to the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington, the Bangladeshi delegation also urged the US to grant duty-free and quota-free (DFQF) access to its products under the World Trade Organization's (WTO) so-called Bali Package. They also claimed that AGOA (the African Growth and Opportunity Act) discriminates between least developed countries (LDCs) in Africa and Asia, including Bangladesh.

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The Bangladesh side also voiced its concern over the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) agreed between 12 countries including the US and Vietnam, claiming it might adversely impact Bangladesh's exports to the US and some other TPP countries.

The next TICFA Council meeting is set to take place next year in Dhaka.