Asia

Bangladesh anger at US trade privilege suspension

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe Bangladeshi government has branded the decision "shocking", "harsh" and "disappointing", as Mahfuz Sadique reports from Dhaka.

Bangladesh has criticised Washington's decision to suspend trade privileges over concerns about dangerous working conditions and labour rights.

This decision comes after a year-long review of labour practices and workplace safety in Bangladesh.

The foreign ministry in Dhaka described the move as harsh, saying the government had taken clear measures to improve safety at clothing factories.

In April, 1,127 died when when a factory building collapsed near Dhaka.

The eight-storey Rana Plaza building came crashing down on 24 April, a day after cracks had been spotted in the building.

It was the deadliest in a series of accidents that have focused global attention on safety standards in Bangladesh's export garment industry, which is the second biggest in the world after China's.

'Shoddy buildings'

The disaster sparked a series of angry protests by workers in the garment industry and heightened international concern. Twelve people have so far been arrested, including the building's owner.

It also prompted the government to introduce some reforms and more inspections and some international retailers have also proposed an accord to improve safety conditions in Bangladesh.

But unions and experts say hundreds of factories are still operating in shoddy buildings, raising fears that another tragedy could occur at any time.

The US order suspends Bangladesh's duty-free trade privileges under the terms of a trade programme called the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), designed to promote economic growth in developing countries.

"It cannot be more shocking for the factory workers of Bangladesh that the decision to suspend GSP comes at a time when the government of Bangladesh has taken concrete and visible measures to improve factory safety and protect workers' rights," a Bangladesh foreign ministry statement said.

But President Barack Obama, in a proclamation, said Bangladesh was not taking steps to afford internationally recognised rights to its workers.

And US Trade Representative Michael Froman said several recent incidents "had served to highlight some of the serious shortcomings in worker rights and workplace safety standards in Bangladesh".

The BBC's Mahfuz Sadique in Dhaka says that Thursday's decision, which comes into effect in 60 days, is mostly symbolic as it covers less than 1% of Bangladesh's nearly $5bn (£3.2bn) exports to the US and it does not affect clothing exports.

But, our correspondent says, it could have an influence over the European Union's review into similar privileges.

The EU is the largest market for garments from Bangladesh, accounting for 60% of exports. The garment industry employs some four million people in Bangladesh, 80% of them women.

More on this story