As The White House Cracks Down On Bangladesh, Walmart Accord Nears

Two positive signs emerged on Thursday (June 27) in the public relations battle against Bangladesh apparel factories, including one that had a factory fire in November that killed 112 workers and one from April that suffered a building collapse that killed 1,129 workers. The White House announced plans Thursday to suspend trade privileges for Bangladesh, specifically citing safety and labor rights violations in that country's garment plants.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that Walmart, Gap and other major U.S. retailers are on track to reach an agreement by early next month to improve Bangladesh factory safety conditions.

The plan has been developed in meetings convened by a nonprofit group called the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Post said. Its president, Jason Grumet, told the paper: "At this point, only a few final details remain to be worked out and agreed upon. We remain on track to complete the process by early July." Other retailers involved in the talks are Macy's, Sears and JCPenney.

On the sanctions front, President Obama said he was suspending the privileges, effective in 60 days, because Bangladesh was "not taking steps to afford internationally recognized worker rights to workers in that country."

The suspension will revoke the breaks on tariffs that the United States gives Bangladesh under the Generalized System of Preferences, a World Trade Organization program that seeks to promote economic growth.

While Bangladesh fought vigorously to prevent the suspension, worried about the signal it sends to its citizens and to global investors, some trade experts said the suspension would be largely symbolic because it will affect less than 1 percent of America's $4.9 billion in annual imports from Bangladesh.

The tariff preferences being curtailed cover a variety of products, including tobacco and plastic bags, but do not apply to the country's garment industry, which does not have American duty-free status and represents the great bulk of that country's trade with the United States, The Times said.

For more:
- See this New York Times story  
- See this Washington Post story  

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