Vol. 5 Num 549 Mon. December 12, 2005  
Front Page

Dhaka to press hard for free market access
Delegates off to HK for WTO meet

Commerce Minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury said the least developed countries (LDCs) as a group and Bangladesh in particular are expecting to gain quota and duty-free market access to developed countries at the Hong Kong World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial conference.

Speaking at a press conference before leaving for the WTO conference yesterday Altaf said he feared agriculture might be 'the making or breaking issue' at the conference.

Commerce Secretary Faruq Ahmad Siddiqi and other senior officials were present at the press meeting.

The commerce minister said the WTO policymakers have agreed in principle with the LDCs' demand for quota and duty-free trade access to the market of the developed countries. The issue is expected to be passed for implementation at the Hong Kong conference.

"We are now demanding similar access of LDCs' products to the market of large, advanced and matured developing economies," he said while explaining Bangladesh's negotiating position in the 148-nation Hong Kong global trade forum.

Altaf Hossain is leading an 18-member delegation to the conference which includes representatives from the private sector, NGOs and the civil society.

Bangladesh has formulated a 13-point negotiating position for the conference which includes free movement of workers to the market of the advanced economies.

The minister said Bangladesh is also pressing for trade remedial measures and a compensatory mechanism for the LDCs if their exports face erosion due to preference.

It might be done with a deep cut in tariffs by the developed countries reducing the competitiveness of the exports of the poorer countries who enjoy generalised system of preference (GSP) facilities.

He said the subsidy issue on agriculture will not affect Bangladeshi farmers. Bangladesh is not providing any subsidies to agriculture but it is helping a small number of farmers with rebates on inputs like electricity or some other small financial supports such as handling charges.

The subsidy issue is going to be the burning point for the major economies like the United States of America (USA), European Union (EU), Japan and developing economies like Korea, India, Mexico and China.

A triangular confrontation is likely to occur between the USA, the EU and the developing countries now known as G-20.

Bangladesh will take a serious stand on preferential, compensatory and transitional measures in case of a deep cut in agricultural subsidies by larger economies which may push food grains and cotton prices high in the international market.

He said it would be necessary because a price rise of food grain and cotton will enlarge the country's import bills. It will also erode the competitiveness of apparels in the global market.

The commerce minister said Bangladesh will also push for safeguards and commitments from the developed and developing countries that they will not impose anti-dumping and countervailing measures on LDCs exports.

Altaf said he held consultations with business leaders, NGOs and civil society leaders in the preparatory stage of the Hong Kong ministerial conference.

The Bangladesh delegation will put up a harmonised stance reflecting the overall interest of the country at the WTO conference, he observed.