Vol. 5 Num 574 Fri. January 06, 2006  
Front Page

Pak-SL role at WTO comes under fire
Their diplomats defend opposition to Dhaka's textile quota

The role of Sri Lanka and Pakistan against LDCs in the Hong Kong Ministerial meeting of the WTO came under criticism at a dialogue yesterday but diplomats of both the countries said Bangladesh would have done the same thing if it were in the similar position.

Gamini Munasinghe, high commissioner of Sri Lanka in Dhaka, said duty-free and quota-free access to developed countries' market for LDC (the least developed countries) products might have adversely affected Sri Lanka's garment exports.

Around 50 percent of Sri Lanka's total export earning comes from the apparel sector and that's why it expressed its concern over the issue, he explained.

Echoing Munasinghe, Roubina Taufic Shah, commercial secretary of Pakistan high commission in Dhaka, defended her country's stance, saying Bangladesh would have done the same thing if it were in the position as Pakistan.

Earlier, a former BGMEA president, trade experts and NGO activists taking part in the dialogue on 'Hong Kong Ministerial Conference of the WTO: Outcome, LDC Interests and Bangladesh's Concerns' criticised the two Saarc countries' role.

Annisul Huq, former president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), referring to the role of Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the Hong Kong meet said solidarity of the LDCs and the Saarc countries should be shaken for this.

"Sri Lanka was with us. Both Sri Lanka and Pakistan submitted their papers that did not include this [opposing the free access of all LDC products] and even two weeks back they had made commitment in this regard," he said.

The BGMEA leader said it was more harmful that the objection came from some developing countries against the duty-free and quota-free access.

Similar comments came from Syed Alamgir Farouk Chowdhury, former commerce secretary, Sharifa Khan of the WTO Cell of the commerce ministry and NGO activist Ziaul Huq Mukta during the discussion organised by Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).

Professor Rehman Sobhan, chairman of the CPD, presided over the dialogue held at Cirdap auditorium in the capital.

Reaz Rahman, adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, attended the dialogue as chief guest while Barbara Richardson, Canadian high commissioner in Dhaka, spoke as special guest. Dr Shishir Priyadarshi, counsellor, WTO Secretariat, presented the keynote paper.

In his speech, Reaz Rahman said final declaration in the Hong Kong Ministerial came as a shock and great disappointment for Bangladesh. "Now we have to concentrate on correcting these things in the future...We'll have to work for the modalities on market access."

Stressing the need for diversifying products, he suggested engaging a secretary level official in dealing with the WTO issues, forming a national committee and strengthening the foreign trade institute to benefit from future WTO talks.

Prof Rehman Sobhan said readymade garment export to the US market has helped the country contribute to poverty reduction. But he deplored Bangladesh's dependence on a single product [RMG] for around 20 years.

In his keynote paper, Dr Shishir mentioned that duty-free and quota-free (DFQF) access for the LDCs was one of the most important issues for them in the Hong Kong Ministerial.

However, most developed country members of the WTO said that it would be legally difficult to bind any DFQF access, he said adding that reservations were also expressed about universal coverage as far as 'all' LDCs and 'all' products was concerned.

Identifying the year 2006 as a crucial one for Bangladesh, Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, executive director of the CPD, said the whole WTO process will be carried on when the nation will be heading towards a general election.

Expressing his concern, he said: "We will have to put maximum efforts at that time and this issue needs to be addressed urgently."

Debapriya underscored the need for concentrating on capacity building and recommended strengthening the WTO Cell and the capacity of Bangladesh mission in Geneva, the headquarters of the World Trade Organisation.