Nobel laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus and BRAC Chairperson Sir Fazle Hasan Abed yesterday urged US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to allow Bangladeshi garments duty-free access to the US market to help create local jobs, especially for women.
They met Hillary at a breakfast meeting at the US ambassador’s residence in Gulshan, Dhaka.
If Bangladesh’s garment exports get duty-free access to the US, it would give an impetus to women empowerment in Bangladesh, Yunus said.
“We already have major changes in women’s empowerment. If we get the access, several millions of women will get jobs. You (the US) will have to consider it from this aspect,” Yunus told reporters after the meeting.
The demand for such access to the US market, the single largest export destination of Bangladeshi products, is a much-hyped issue as Bangladesh, despite being a least developed country, pays high tariff for the access.
Bangladesh, the largest maker of apparel after China and a key garments supplier to Wal-Mart Stores and Tommy Hilfiger, pays an average 15.3 percent duty on its US exports.
Ninety-seven percent Bangladeshi goods have duty-free access to the US market, but the list does not include garments, the main export item of the country, which employs three million people, majority of them women.
Bangladesh pays the US more than $600 million in duty per year, which is almost equivalent to the annual aid the country gets from the US.
Last year, Bangladesh exported goods worth $4.59 billion to the US and imported goods worth $1.09 billion, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh.
Dr Yunus, the Grameen Bank founder, said the special trade treatment is not a business topic only.
“We are talking about business, but the most important thing is that it (duty-free access) will create more employment opportunities,” he said.
“This should be considered from the point that it will make women more independent,” he added.
“She has paid special attention to our demand for the duty-free access of Bangladeshi products. She has not given any immediate assurance, but said that she would consider it,” Yunus said, referring to Hillary.
From the impression of the US secretary of state, it appears that Bangladesh has a possibility of getting the duty-free access, said Sir Abed.
The comments from Prof Yunus and Sir Abed came just a week after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged the US to allow such access to boost trade relations between the two countries.
“Bangladeshi products get a duty- and quota-free access to the European Union and many other developed countries. India has also provided us with the privilege for our garments products. So why not the US?” the prime minister questioned, during a meeting in Habiganj on April 30.
“The US is a big country and a big market…It is our people’s demand for a duty-free access to the US,” said Hasina.
The US offers the benefit to all the least developed countries except Bangladesh, she pointed out. “I don’t know why.”
The Grameen Bank founder said the issue of microcredit, its future and what other countries are doing about the financial tool were also discussed at the meeting.
“She wanted to know about the condition of Grameen Bank. I have explained the issue to her,” Yunus said without elaborating.
Prof Yunus also briefed Hillary on the advancements that took place among the poor women and their children in Bangladesh since her last visit to the country.
He also briefed her on the progress made by Grameen Bank and the problems the bank is facing currently.
Dr Yunus also updated Hillary on the 54 independent companies he set up, which the government plans to bring under the control of Grameen Bank.
Yunus said he mentioned the electricity crisis as a major problem for the country and they have sought support from the US in establishing a regional energy network with Nepal and Myanmar.
Bangladesh is desperately trying to meet its growing energy demand and is seeking to forge partnerships with neighbouring countries to import electricity.
-With The Daily Star input