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Dhaka, Washington set to sign trade pact


Dhaka : Bangladesh is set to sign the long-pending Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with the US by the year-end, for which concluding negotiations are to begin shortly, a media report said.

The final round of talks with the US will take place amidst a raging debate on bilateral trade and transit arrangements with ‘stronger’ partners, including India with which a summit level dialogue is expected during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to New Delhi.

“Critics believe that agreements such as TIFA with the US or transit and bilateral free trade agreements with India are bound to favour the stronger partners and will hardly serve the national interests of Bangladesh unless special concessions are made to the weaker party,” New Age newspaper said Tuesday.

The TIFA supporters claim that it creates a platform for exploring business opportunities for the mutual benefit of the two countries, the newspaper noted after talking to economists and experts.

Wide-ranging issues of TIFA are being discussed during the current visit to Bangladesh of the assistant US trade representative, Michael J. Delaney, the media report said.

The proposed TIFA is a framework agreement like a Memorandum of Understanding which has no binding obligations except the formation of a council for discussing the issues of trade and investment and holding at least one meeting a year, said unidentified US officials in Dhaka.

Washington hopes that Dhaka will agree to a negotiated deal by this year for signing the agreement, talks on which began in 2003.

After assumption of office by the Hasina-led government in January, Dhaka expressed its clear interest in resuming TIFA talks with Washington and signing the agreement at the earliest.

It is sensitive to criticism about the alleged use of child labour and of employer-labour relations and the resultant sanctions from the US. It wants this “contentious and sensitive” issue excluded from TIFA’s draft.

A US official said that statements made in the preamble of the already concluded TIFA agreements with Sri Lanka and Pakistan had no binding obligations.

“TIFA does not override Bangladesh’s other international commitments and obligations. It is a mechanism that guarantees that our two countries will get closer,” the official was quoted as saying.