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Latif on Mozena’s statement in Parliament

Written By: HarunurRashid
25/05/2013 13:27

According to a media report, the subcommittee of the Trade Policy Staff committee (TPSC) is due to submit its recommendations to US President Barack Obama at the end of this month. It has already held several rounds on the GSP benefits for Bangladeshi products. The GSP or Generalized System of Preferences, I am sure my readers must be in the know of it, is a programme which is designed to promote growth in the developing countries. Under this system the buyer country provides preferential duty-free entry for up to 5,000 products when imported from one of 127 designated beneficiary countries and territories. So, the programme is a do-good gesture by the developed world to countries that try to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty. But it is not without any benefit to the buyer countries. The GSP programmes support jobs in the US. According to a study by US Chamber of Commerce, 80,000 jobs are linked with moving GSP imports from the docks to farmers, manufacturers and retail shelves. The Generalized System of Preferences was first introduced on 1st January 1976 by the Trade Act of 1974.
Bangladesh had a humble beginning in 1974 and soon it grew into a vibrantly thriving industry. From a mere 3.5 million it has grown into a 19 billion industry contributing 10 per cent to the country’s economy. Its nearly 5000 factories employ 4 million workers mostly women. Understandably, it has led to the emancipation of women – something a million dollar sensitizing lectures would never have achieved.
So the GSP is vitally important to the 10 to 12 million people’s well-being and its withdrawal will not only affect the rich owners but also the rural poor who strive to come above the poverty line.
The US has been advising the garments and textiles sector to improve the working conditions of the workers, to provide them infrastructural safety, and above all to give them the right to association. The owners, among whom there are two dozen Members of Parliament, have turned a deaf ear to the intermittent advice coming from Washington. Meanwhile, accidents have been happening one after another and the last one about three weeks ago hit the world headlines for its sheer intensity and insensitivity of the authorities who allowed such frail structure to house four garments factories.
It was therefore in the fitness of things that, besides the rights bodies and NGOs, the government machinery would take the US suggestions seriously. The parliamentary standing committee on Labour and Employment held a mass hearing to which a few ambassadors and donor members were invited. This is how Dan Mozena, the US ambassador, got inside Louis Kahn’s building and participated in the discussion. He was drawing attention of the august body to the increasing demand at the official circle to withdraw GSP for Bangladeshi products unless certain conditions were fulfilled among which he spoke on better conditions for the workers and their right to form trade unions. I don’t know if he again reminded the authorities about the mysterious disappearance of Aminul the labour leader which he frequently does.
This is not the first time, and must admit I have lost count of how many times, Mozena has insisted publicly to introduce trade unions in the Bangladesh readymade and textile industries. When a score or so of the senators move for withdrawing GSP in the miserable context of Bangladesh RMG workers, it becomes officially binding on the ambassador representing US to convey the sentiment of the politicians in the Capitol Hill to the Bangladesh authorities. Dan Mozena, a Banglaphile, was simply doing his official duty in the capacity of a diplomat. From this point of view the ambassador was not intruding in the internal affairs of the country. He was doing this for the good of a country that has a 19 billion US dollar stake in GSP. Withdrawal of this duty-free access to the US market would not only hit the manufacturers but also about 4 million mostly female poor.
Now media reports have stated that Latif Siddiqui has sharply reacted to Mozena’s deposition and has written to him protesting his interference in the internal affairs of the country. Mr Siddiqui, to the best of my knowledge, is a book-worm and probably owns the highest collection of books in his private study. He is well-read, well-informed and has a fair political background. According to him Mozena’s opinion is 'obtrusive, hurting and provocative'. I am glad at least one minister has self-respect and feels that way for his country.
Had it been a different diplomat other than Mozena, I would have felicitated Siddiqui. But Dan Mozena is different, in fact, he is a Banglaphile. He was simply doing his official duty in the capacity of a diplomat. From this point of view the ambassador was not intruding in the internal affairs of the country. He was doing this for the good of a country that has a big stake in the GSP.
Dan Mozena is not a new diplomat in this country. He had served as the political officer in the late nineties, if I remember it well. This is his second stint as a diplomat and he knows the strengths and weaknesses of Bangladesh more than any other ambassador in this country. He is aware of our politicians, when in the opposition, writing letters to the ambassadors to stop giving aid to cripple the incumbent government. And who has forgotten the hectic meetings and shuttling of the ambassadors (Patricia Butenis!) before the army-backed caretaker government took over in 2006? Our politicians on both sides of the divide have allowed foreign diplomats to dabble in our politics. So Latif Siddiqui, who is an informed politician, sounded like someone who has suddenly woken up from sleep and discovered his self-esteem and his country’s dignity.

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Bangladesh Echonomics Politics 


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About HarunurRashid

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  • Name: Professor M Harunur Rashid
  • From: Dhaka
  • Nationality: Bangladesh
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    Professor Harunur Rashid is a Cambridge Gradute, former professor of North South University, now Teaching English at International Islamic University Chittagong(IIUC), Dhaka Campus. Contributing as an Associate Editor of The Independent and former DG of Bangla Academy.


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