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US Government Has No Plans to Slow Bangladesh Clothing Exports

The US is moving to suspend trade privileges with Bangladesh, following concerns about labor rights and worker safety violations. The concerns have persisted since the emergence of the apparel sector in the country, but the recent Rana Plaza disaster, the garment industry’s deadliest ever, has moved many to take action.

The move will not affect Bangladesh clothing exports, and the US is not planning to take action that will reduce exports. US Trade Representative Mike Froman said he hoped the move would lead Bangladesh to improve conditions within the sector.

The Obama administration announced the move today, following a yearlong review of the conditions in the country.

Lawmakers from the Democratic Party and union leaders have been pushing for the elimination of trade preferences with the nation. Currently, Bangladesh has duty free access to the United States for nearly 5,000 products. The GSP does not cover the garment or apparel sectors, and in fact applies to less than 1% of Bangladesh’s approximately $5 billion in exports to the US. However, the symbolism of the move would likely deter many American companies from working in the country.

The US Trade Representative’s office has confirmed that a decision will be made today or tomorrow regarding the preferences.

Bangladesh is eager to maintain good trade relations with the US, and a source close to the administration has stated that the suspension will likely come with a roadmap to allow the country to regain its privileges under the program. This will probably be tied to progress on labor rights and worker conditions.

The move might also impact a looming decision from the EU, which has considered withdrawing GSP privileges for the nation. The EU trade privileges do cover garments, and their withdrawal would be a major blow for Bangladesh’s apparel manufacturing sector.