The third European Union (EU) trade mission will visit Bangladesh next month (March) to assess the country's labour rights situation and its eligibility to continue getting GSP (generalised scheme of preferences) benefits under the EU's Everything but Arms (EBA) regime, officials said.
Earlier, the EU sent two EBA technical missions to Bangladesh in September 2018 and in October 2019 for the same purpose.
The European Commission's trade director Ewa Synowiec, in a letter on January 31, informed the commerce, foreign and labour secretaries, about the technical follow up mission's visit to Dhaka, they added.
"We need to continue our engagement to ensure that human rights and labour rights reforms are sustained, and that Bangladesh aligns fully with the standards and laws stemming from its adherence to the United Nations Conventions applicable under the EBA arrangement of the EU's GSP," the letter read.
Appreciating Bangladesh's commitments to address the EU's concerns, Ewa Synowiec in the letter stressed the need for multiplying efforts to work out concrete actions and timelines to finalise a credible action plan by the end of next month.
"The mission would allow to identify further the most effective tools and timelines that would lead to adoption of a binding and final version of the action plan," it added.
The EU also wants shorter timelines to amend the Bangladesh Labour Act (BLA) and to include necessary amendments to the Export Processing Zones (EPZ) Labour Act.
Bangladesh committed to further amend the BLA by the end of 2022. The last amendments to the BLA took place in 2018.
The EU also focused on the urgent need for Bangladesh to adopt a National Action Plan for implementation of recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) without further delay, and also assured its support to Bangladesh in this endeavour.
On January 02, Bangladesh sent the draft roadmap to the EU, seeking six months to six years time to address the EU's concerns.
The EU first communicated its concerns to Bangladesh in March 2017 on non-compliance of labour rights under the EBA arrangement.
Since then, the EU repeatedly warned Bangladesh that the tariff preferences under the EBA are conditional in respect of labour standards and human rights, as reflected in the international conventions enumerated in the GSP Regulations.
In the latest report, published on February 12, the European Commission again warned the country of its readiness to launch the procedure for withdrawal of trade preferences under the EBA in case of Bangladesh's failure to show sufficient results.
According to sources, the first EBA monitoring mission focused on labour rights, while the second EBA mission noted progress in certain areas.
But it also underlined that this was insufficient, and there was need for further efforts to fully align Bangladesh's labour laws and practices with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards, they added.
The EU in last November provided the government a list of 'suggested actions on labour rights', and asked for a time-bound action plan to retain trade benefits under its EBA initiative.
According to the EU data, exports from Bangladesh to the EU under the EBA amounted to €17.4 billion in 2018, and approximately €2.0 billion in duties were saved in Bangladesh on an annual basis.
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