May 21, 2013

Regarding the May 17 front-page article “Bangladesh labor lapses could end tariff breaks”:

Whereas some members of Bangladesh’s parliament might be linked to the textile sector, it goes too far to term a consortium of textile factory owners a “potent political force” in my country. Legal action is being taken without regard to politics against the owner of the collapsed Rana Plaza textile center and the owners of the garment factories that were located in the building. Since the Tazreen garment factory fire in November, the government has taken immediate and long-term steps to improve worker safety, including ensuring the punishment of violators, closure of some unsafe factories and passage of a comprehensive labor law.

Though the United States does allow about 5,000 products to enter U.S. markets tax-free under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), supply constraints limit how much Bangladesh benefits; as the story noted, out of about $5 billion in exports to U.S. markets, only about $35 million is covered by the program.

Excluding Bangladesh from the GSP program would not help the 4 million workers (80 percent of whom are women) in the textile sector. Rather, we continue to seek to expand tax-free access to textiles and apparel, which constitute about 94 percent of Bangladesh’s exports to the United States. Allowing such access while linking it to better wages and working conditions would go a long way toward helping Bangladesh in general and textile workers in particular.

M. Shafiqul Islam, Washington

The writer is counselor for commerce at Bangladesh’s embassy to the United States.