GSP suspension: US State Dept spokesman draws barrage of questions

Diplomatic Correspondent

US state department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell drew a barrage of questions after he told a press briefing in Washington on Friday that the suspension of GSP benefits was an ‘opportunity’ for Bangladesh to improve its labour and safety standards.
Replying to a question over the suspension of the GSP benefits for Bangladesh, Ventrell said that the US believed that ‘this moment represents an opportunity for Bangladesh’ to take action to improve its labour safety standards.
He said the US would work with Bangladesh on the steps needed to potentially restore its GSP privileges, but that requires going through a process so that Bangladesh can make improvements.
‘We’ll continue to work with them so that they can take additional substantive actions to improve worker safety,’ said Ventrell.
Asked if the US government received any response from the Bangladesh government after cancellation of the GSP facility, he said, ‘I’m not sure if they’ve been in direct contact with us since this announcement, but successfully addressing these underlying labour rights and workplace safety issues will help ensure that there’s never again another fire or collapse like we saw in some of these horrific incidents.’
Asked if the US is taking some of the measures along with the Bangladesh government to address these issues, Ventrell said they need to see improvement in worker safety and rights, including the right to freely associate and engage in collective bargaining.
‘I don’t think here from the State Department podium I can get into all the necessary actions. I’d really refer you to USTR (US Trade Representative) about the specifics, but that’s sort of the broad areas that we’re looking to cooperate with the Bangladeshis on labour concerns.’
When a correspondent asked how the suspension of the trade preferences could represent an ‘opportunity’ for Bangladesh, Ventrell said ‘this is an opportunity that they need to take advantage of.’
Ventrell fumbled on the question whether the GSP suspension was ‘positive’ as the correspondent shot back.
As the correspondent said with laughter ‘This is the most – that’s completely twisted,’ Ventrell advised the correspondent Matt Lee, ‘Take the lens back a little bit, remember –’
Ventrell, however, agreed with the questioner saying ‘It’s right,’ when the correspondent pointed out that Bangladesh had an opportunity for years during the six years’ review of the US GSP facilities for it.
Ventrell retorted: ’Well, this crystallizes their decision-making. We want to see the Bangladeshi economy succeed,’ when the same correspondent asked again, ‘To do this, and now all of a sudden – so you ‘punish’ them and then call it an ‘opportunity? We think that there are important economic opportunities to lift more people out of poverty into the middle class. And there are great economic opportunities. But it has to be done in the context of better labour and safety standards, which I think we’ve seen, because of these really horrific incidents.’
The questioner asked, ‘If the State Department were a traffic cop and Bangladesh was a speeding motorist, and you gave them a ticket, you would say that would represent an ‘opportunity’ for them to slow down?
In reply Ventrell said ‘That would be one way to phrase it.’
Another correspondent asked, ‘Right. I’m sure they’re very pleased with the opportunity that you’ve given them.’
He said there had been a number of hearings on the Capitol Hill and a number of congressmen and senators, asked the US administration to rebuild safe factories because it is in the interests of – to both countries, Bangladesh and the U.S.
Asked what steps do you think the U.S. is taking on the advice of the U.S. Congress? Ventrell replied: ‘Well, I think that there are many members on the Hill who share the administration’s concern that – both that we help Bangladesh improve its economy and lift people out of poverty, but at the same time do so in a way that – where we have factories that maintain fire safety standards, factories that are structurally sound, and improve worker safety conditions. So those are broadly shared both on the Hill and here in the Administration.’
With laughter the correspondent shot back, ‘And maybe you can get the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) involved as well.’
The correspondent hastened to ask violence in Bangladesh occurs due to poverty and unemployment and that’s the government’s job, so what do you think the government is asking the US or what the Bangladesh Government can do to calm this violence and can democracy continue in Bangladesh?
Ventrell replied: ‘Well, that’s a really broad question, but, I mean, there’s a lot of multifaceted issues you phrased. But clearly, we want to get their economy improving. We want to help as they consolidate on democratic reforms.’

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