Vol. 5 Num 557 Tue. December 20, 2005  
Front Page

Dhaka's textiles to lose duty-free access
Says Altaf on return from WTO meet

Commerce Minister Altaf Hossain Choudhury made it clear yesterday that the textiles sector, which earns 76 percent foreign exchange for the country, is going to lose the privilege of duty-free and quota-free market access under the latest WTO deal.

He however said Bangladesh's benefit out of the WTO trade agreement reached Sunday would be clear after two follow-up meetings in Geneva and Washington to be held in a few months to decide the products that would lose duty-free status.

"Few among the textile items could be exempted from the restriction during the meetings," he told the news agency at Zia International Airport, on his return from the World Trade Organisation conference in Hong Kong.

"We're hopeful that the follow-up negotiations would bring some positive results for us," the commerce minister added.

The United States and Pakistan had made frantic effort in the early days of the six-day ministerial conference to drop Bangladesh, along with Cambodia, from the privilege of zero-tariff market access, giving a broad indication of the textile fate.

The first draft of the ministerial text had proposed to offer the LDCs (least developed countries) duty-free and quota-free access for 95 percent of their products.

Eventually, the trade agreement offered LDCs, 32 of them members of the WTO, such benefit for 97 percent products. But it gave the rich countries prerogative to drop 3 percent of poor nations' products, 339 or more, out of that special treatment.

"This is what we have been able to achieve from the negotiations," Altaf said. LDCs have been able to increase the tariff lines and negotiate to bring out the textiles of Bangladesh and Cambodia from the proposed embargo, he added.

Asked why he did not use veto power as he had hinted earlier, even until Sunday afternoon, he said: "It was a burgeoning position."

Replying to another question, the minister said the government would sit together with the private sector soon to devise strategy for the meetings in Geneva and Washington. "The product list was not finalised in the WTO Trade Agreement."

The meetings would decide the products of Bangladesh to go on the list of duty-free and quota-free market access and identify the products to bring out of the hit list.

Altaf said the review on the products would be completed next year and expected that the extent of duty-free market access for Bangladesh products would be expanded.

"It cannot be termed a futile exercise" at long last, we've achieved something which one cannot dismiss as futile exercise," said the commerce minister, who led the Bangladesh delegation to the sixth session of the ministerial conference.

A commerce ministry official, who was a kingpin for Bangladesh at the WTO meet, told the news agency that considering all aspects Bangladesh needs to diversify its export items to reap benefit out of the WTO offers.

The 97 percent tariff lines comprise some 11,300 products, from vegetable to high-tech computer and aircraft, from which the country could derive benefit, he said.