Enacting a new EPZ act will not be possible within April 15 deadline set by the USTR for a favorable outcome on the country’s lost GSP facility, commerce minister Tofail Ahmed said on Monday.
‘We need more time to repeal the existing EPZ act and enact a new one in line with the provisions spelt out in the action plan of the US to restore the generalized system of preference facility,’ Tofail told reporters after a meeting with a visiting European Union delegation at his secretariat office.
The US authorities subsequently asked Bangladesh government to implement an action plan that includes EPZ labour issues, among other must-do list to restore the lost GSP privilege.
The fresh deadline to comply with the US plan has been re-fixed on April 15 as the next review will be conducted in May by the USTR. Dhaka failed to qualify in the first round of review conducted in January, sources said.
Officials at the commerce ministry said Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority, entrusted with the responsibility to oversee the activities of the country’s about half a dozen EPZs, is reluctant to award the EPZ workers with freedom of association and right to call strikes in the factories housed in the exclusive zones.
‘The BEPZA is more sympathetic to investors’ causes than listening to the demands of workers,’ a senior trade official told New Age on Monday.
The US in its plan stated that the government must ‘repeal or commit to a timeline for expeditiously bringing the EPZ law into conformity with international standards so that workers within EPZ factories enjoy the same freedom of association and collective bargaining rights as other workers in the country.’ It added that the government should create a working group ‘and begin the repeal or overhaul of the EPZ law, in coordination with the ILO.’
The second condition in the action plan states that the government must ‘issue regulations that, until the EPZ law has been repealed or overhauled, will ensure the protection of EPZ workers’ freedom of association, including by prohibiting “blacklisting” and other forms of exclusion from the zones for labour activities.’
Thirdly, ‘until the EPZ law is repealed or overhauled, [the government] will ensure transparency in the endorsement of the existing EPZ law and require the same inspection standards and procedures as in the rest of the RMG sector.’
Tofail, however, said appointment of factory inspectors would be completed by this month, while a data base of garment workers will be officially inaugurated on March 27 as both are part of the US action plan.
Jean Lambert, the visiting leader of a four-member cross-party parliamentary delegation from EU said they were concerned over the safety issues in the garment industries.
‘We are here to oversee how the government is acting to improve the overall safety and labour issues in the garment industry,’ Jean Lambert told reporters after holding the meeting with Tofail Ahmed.
-The New Age.