Vol. 5 Num 557 Tue. December 20, 2005  

Is it nothing for BD from WTO?
Let us not take away any wrong lesson
The sixth WTO ministerial meet in Hong Kong has come to a close with little real progress on the important issues that dominated the negotiations, and with nothing of significant advantage for Bangladesh.

The agreement reached with respect to farm subsidies was disappointing in its final form. Not only was the date of elimination for the subsidies pushed back from 2010 to 2013 to accommodate the wishes of the EU, but the details are still unclear. The agreement is not target-based and nothing has been quantified.

From Bangladesh's point of view, the center-piece was the agreement on granting duty and quota-free access to developed markets for goods from the group of 15 LDCs. The final deal permits duty and quota-free entry for 97 percent of products, but permits the developed countries to maintain restrictions on 3 percent of items, that will include ready-made garments from Bangladesh and Cambodia.

The reason given for this was that the RMG sectors in Bangladesh and Cambodia are considered competitive and have no need of such a helping hand.

It may not be lost on us that in a way the argument is complimentary of Bangladesh and our garments sector. Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that we should be moving beyond thinking of ourselves as a nation dependent on concessions and unable to compete without them.

The fact that the RMG sector is competitive at a global level should raise two questions for is. The first is why we are not competitive in other sectors, with a commitment to improving port facilities, infrastructure, banking services, etc to bring the business climate in the country up to a level where investment and trade prosper. The second is why we have not diversified our export base in such a way that we would be able to take advantage from the offer on the table.

Finally, there is nothing to stop bilateral agreements between Bangladesh and other countries with respect to greater market access, and this is a path we should be pursuing in recognition of the fact that the new tariff-line wouldn't be applicable before 2008.

Some questions have arisen revolving around our handling of negotiations at the Hong Kong round which was apparently blemished by lack of cooperation between our Geneva office and the visiting negotiating team from Bangladesh. The government needs to look into the issue to learn from the experienced so that we are better equipped next time around.