Cabinet clears way for TICFA signing with US

Mustafizur Rahman

The cabinet on Monday cleared the way for signing of the much-discussed ‘Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement’ with the United States, including a provision for setting up a bilateral body to address trade-related issues between the two countries.
The commerce ministry placed the draft TICFA at the weekly cabinet meeting for approval with prime minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair.
Bangladesh will have to take more actions to fight corruption and ensure workers’ rights in the industrial sector, particularly right to trade unionism in the export-oriented apparel industry, said officials concerned.
‘The cabinet has approved the draft Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement for signing with the United States after protracted negotiations…This will create an opportunity for Bangladesh to discuss trade and investment issues with the US on a regular basis,’ cabinet secretary Mohammad Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told a press briefing after the meeting.
He said that Bangladesh had agreed in principle with the US to implement its international commitment on the issues relating to labour rights and fighting corruption, among other things, under the TICFA, which was initially titled as Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.
Dhaka and Washington would now sign the TICFA as early as possible as the countries had earlier exchanged the draft documents, the cabinet secretary added.
The draft agreement, he said, had a provision for a mandatory involvement of private sector and civil society in the discussion over trade and investment matters between the countries.
Talking to New Age, a junior minister said that the signing of the agreement was being delayed over the labour rights issues.
‘The government wanted to allow the workers’ right to trade unionism progressively, particularly in the garment industry. But now the word—progressively—has been dropped,’ the minister said.
Commerce secretary Mahbub Ahmed said both Bangladesh and the US would establish a forum that would meet at least once a year to review trade and investment-related issues between the two countries.
At present, there is no such body or forum, he said, adding that a body under the ministry of foreign affairs had held partnership dialogue with the US. But trade and investment-related issues were hardly discussed, he said.
The commerce secretary said trade-related intellectual property rights and labour rights-related issues would be governed by the laws of the respective countries.
He, however, could not say as to why the policymakers did not discuss such an important deal in parliament.
Replying to a question, Musharraf said the signing of the agreement had an ‘implied link’ with the continuation of Generalised System of Preference for Bangladeshi products in the US market.
Asked whether there was any pressure from the US side to sign the agreement, he replied in the negative.
A bilateral forum will be constituted under the agreement where Bangladesh’s commerce ministry and the United States Trade Representative would represent their respective countries, according to the draft which contains a long preamble with 16 sections and seven articles.
The document stressed the need for implementation of international commitments under the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the International Labour Organisation Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work as Bangladesh ratified the documents earlier. TICFA also includes protection of Intellection Property Rights under the World Trade Organisation, established in 2005.
The cabinet secretary said that Bangladesh had signed similar agreements with 42 countries while the United States had signed such deals with 90 countries.
The initiative to sign the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement was taken in 2002.
Once the bilateral forum was set up, the authority of a country to take unilateral decision over any trade-related issues, including disputes, would be reduced, Musharraf said.
He said the deal would obviously be made public once signed between the two countries.

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