Allegation of selling counterfeit items including garment and footwear products in the US market has been raised by the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) against Bangladesh. In this connection, AAFA and the Paris-based anti-counterfeiting body, Union des Fabricants, or UNIFAB, reportedly suggested that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) should include Bangladesh in its Priority Watch List. Reports further have it that the office of the USTR, in response to the suggestions of AAFA and UNIFAB, sent a letter to the Bangladesh government on February 10 asking to send its submission to the annual special 301 review by February 13. Notably, the 301 review is about the protection and enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) globally as mandated by the US Congress and done by the USTR in exercise of the Section 182 0f the US's Trade Act of 1974. The government, its commerce ministry, to be specific, is learnt to have promptly responded to the USTR's request by sending its initial submission and seeking 15 days' more time for sending the final submission.
It is worthwhile to note that AAFA is the US national trade association that represents apparel, footwear and other sewn products companies and their suppliers competing in the global market. Also, it represents some 1,000 global brand names and is the public policy and political voice of the US apparel and footwear industry that contributes more than US$470 billion in annual retail sales. Since an allegation of IPRs violation has been brought against Bangladesh by the US-based trade association, AAFA, the government needs to consider it with the highest priority and initiate the required damage control exercise. One needs to keep in mind here that the US is the Bangladesh's largest export market. In the last fiscal year alone Bangladesh exported goods, of which 95 per cent were garment products, worth US$10 billion to the USA. So, given that AAFA has such huge influence on the US's apparel and footwear market, Bangladesh alongside cooperating with USTR, should also use its diplomatic and business channels to communicate with this US trade body and explain the country's actual position on the issue.
For the AAFA's observation to the USTR that counterfeit Bangladeshi products are being seized at an increasing rate from the global market is indeed damning. Further to that, referring to one of its member organisations, the AAFA also pointed to what it termed Bangladesh's 'zero established IP policy' as well as rampant corruption coming in the way of any IP enforcement here. Now, however unkind the US trade body's comments may appear, the government would do well to take due note of it, if only for the sake of saving the country's export market. At the same time, it should get to the root of why such complaints are coming from the international business platform of a market as important as the US's.
As expected, the government has duly explained to the USTR the IP-related benefits Bangladesh as a member of the LDCs has been enjoying under WTO's IPR rules. And, reassuringly, the government simultaneously also promised that Bangladesh would abide by the IPR rules as soon as it graduates to a developing nation by 2026.After all is said and done, it is time the government came down hard on those who are destroying Bangladeshi products' brand image abroad.