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Thursday, November 8, 2012
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Obama victory brings hopes for Bangladesh

L-R: Zaid Bakht, Debapriya Bhattacharya

The reelection of Barack Obama as the US president can enhance the economic and political ties between Dhaka and Washington, economists and experts said yesterday.

Dr Zaid Bakht, a research director of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, hopes there would be progress in the issues pertaining to duty-free access for garment products and the Trade and Investment Cooperation Framework Agreement, which have been lingering for years.

"Lately, a political dimension has been added to the economic policies. We do not have the 'best of relationship' with the US at the moment for various reasons," he said.

The onus now lies with Bangladesh to improve relationship with the US, Bakht said.

He, however, is doubtful whether the relationship would have improved if there had been a change in leadership in Washington.

"Any Republican government would be more conservative in terms of opening up the economy. Bangladesh could benefit from outsourcing jobs in the near future, which would have been difficult if a Republican was in power."

Bangladesh's garment exporters have been seeking duty-free access to the US market for years now as they have to pay on average 15.30 percent duty, whereas some developed and developing countries pay below four percent.

America is the single largest garment export destination of Bangladesh.

Debapriya Bhattacharya, a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a local think-tank, said the implementation of Obama's plans to revive the US economy is also linked with Bangladesh's interest.

"It is expected to enhance the American economy's growth rate, improve its employment record and investment scenario. As a result, there will be more income for the American citizens, which would expand the market for Bangladeshi garments and other items."

"Of note is the US president's planned tax cuts for the middle-class, which will give more purchasing power to the middle-class, who are, in fact, the major clients of Bangladeshi garment products," he said.

He also said the strengthening of the US economy would hopefully stabilise the global economy as a whole, including the now battered Eurozone.

The spill-over of the American economy on the Eurozone would also enhance Bangladesh's exports to the EU.

Bhattacharya said during his election campaign the US President also talked about the heightened co-operation in the field of development, which includes more support for investment and trade facilitation.

"Bangladesh should seek more avenues to get access to those initiatives," he told The Daily Star.

He said the US President has also committed to “Feed the Future” initiative, which could help ensure Bangladesh's food security and its capacity to respond to humanitarian crisis.

The economist, however, said Bangladesh would have to be mindful of the US concerns in areas of labour and human rights, political uncertainty and corruption, for a strengthened US-Bangla relationship.

"In order to take full advantage, we will have to do some homework ourselves and bring domestic reforms. Otherwise, many of the potentials may remain unattained."

He, however, is not too hopeful about the duty-free access.

"We should remember it is a reelection of the president, which means the new administration is a reelected one. There will be continuity on the part of the administration. So, we should not expect an overnight change in their attitude."

The duty-free access decision is not in the hands of the President, but in the hands of the Congress and the House of Representatives, he added.

"The US legislatures have already questioned why people are disappearing in Bangladesh. If you do not address the issue how will they extend their co-operation?"

"Only raising expectations and not doing anything on the home-front will not be helpful. Bangladesh and USA have a multifaceted and dynamic relationship and we should not oversimplify it."

Garment exporters also do not expect any big change from the new administration as their past attempts to avail duty-benefit went into vain, said Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

He said Bangladesh engaged lobbyist firms for getting the zero-duty benefit on export of garment items -- but the US government's stance remained unchanged.

Dr Amena Mohsin, a professor at the University of Dhaka's International Relations department, said Bangladesh has a lot to learn from the election.

"Both the leaders [Obama and the Republican contender Mitt Romney] showed they could rise above their parties, and demonstrated their statesmanship, which is very much lacking in Bangladesh."

"Our leaders cannot get above party politics; they fail to be a statesperson. Our leaders should learn from them," she told The Daily Star.

Humayun Kabir, a former ambassador to the US, who echoed Mohsin's views, by saying: "We should learn from the US election that one should be ready both for win and defeat, show respect to the public decision.”

The former diplomat said the US-Bangladesh relation developed in a positive way during Obama's first term, with Bangladesh getting benefits from his different initiatives like Feed the Future, Global Health, Food Security Initiative.

"Bangladesh is also benefiting from the security co-operation with the US in the last few years," he said.

Prime Minister's Foreign Affairs adviser Gowher Rizvi said the relationship between Bangladesh and the US would continue to grow as the two countries share same values and democracy.

While the former Foreign Minister Morshed Khan said Obama's reelection would cast a positive impact on the immigrants and also help maintain the remittance flow from America to Bangladesh.

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This is naivety to the extreme, it does not matter for us who is the president of the US.

: nick

 

 


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