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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 18:41 GMT
Bangladesh gets no trade favours
Woman working in Bangladesh factory
Exports of ready-made garments have been hit particularly hard
By Waliur Rahman in Dhaka

The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Badruddoza Chowdhury, recently returned home after talks with the US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington.

The talks focused on the situation in Afghanistan, export of Bangladeshi gas and Dhaka's plea for duty-free access for its readymade garments to the US market.

But Bangladesh's search for special trade facilities from its biggest export market apparently proved futile.

Bangladesh has been hit particularly hard by a contraction of the vital US market for its textile products.

Things got worse with fears of recession mounting following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

This new problem came on the heels of US legislation last year allowing 72 African and Caribbean countries to export garments to the US without paying any duty.

Heavy dependence

Bangladesh is heavily dependent on the US market, sending 40% of its textile products to that country.

Bangladeshi exporters say they have faced unfair competition in the US market since the new legislation, and fears of recession after the World Trade Center attacks made things worse for them.

They say one-third of Bangladesh's garment factories have already had to shut due to lack of orders.

This has made more than 300,000 workers - mostly women - jobless.

Signs of the economic problem snowballing into a social crisis are already apparent.

Local media report that many young girls, who had escaped rural poverty by taking jobs in the garment factories, were now looking for new ways to survive.

Garment exports
Exports 15.5% of GDP
US receives 40% of all exports
Clothing 55% of all exports
Knitwear and hosiery 18.2% of all exports

Factory jobs had given the women independence - returning to rural poverty is not an option for most.

In a country with millions of unemployed men, women face even grimmer prospects.

A few of them have already become sex-workers.

Broken hopes

Garment exporters say most of the factories which are still running would not survive without duty-free access to the US market.

This is why that issue was at the the top of the Bangladeshi foreign minister's agenda during in his meeting with Mr Powell.

But the Secretary of State only said he would consider Dhaka's request.

Diplomatic sources in Dhaka say Powell's comments fell far short of a commitment.

Garment exporters say they are not totally disappointed, however.

They are optimistic that Bangladesh's support for the US-led campaign against terrorism may eventually bring some reward in the form special trade facilities.

Commerce Minister A K M Chowdhury is due to visit the US after the Doha meeting of the World Trade Organisation.

His mission too will aim at securing duty-free access to the US market, and Bangladeshi garment exporters are counting on his success.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Bangladesh's Finance Minister Saifur Rahman
"It is a very discouraging prospect for Bangladesh"
See also:

17 Oct 01 | South Asia
Bangladeshi PM warns on economy
11 Oct 01 | South Asia
New Bangladesh government named
22 Oct 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bangladesh
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