Dhaka inches towards signing TIFA with Washington

Original Publication Date: 
11 March, 2007

Dhaka would soon convey its readiness to Washington about signing the long-awaited trade and investment framework agreement or TIFA, accepting the latter's condition of including 'corruption' issue in the text, top sources in the government said.

Talks on TIFA were stalled since February 2005 as the immediate-past government was not willing to incorporate the 'corruption' issue in the main text at the US insistence, fearing that it would project Bangladesh as a corrupt country abroad, commerce ministry officials said.

'We have now budged from our earlier position given the realities both in local and international perspectives, and weighing the benefit of close association with a big trading partner like the USA,' a high official in the ministry told New Age on Sunday.

Earlier, both trade bureaucrats and private sector representatives shared reservations on inclusion of a clause on corruption in the TIFA text.
'Scenario has changed with the new government having different outlooks,' another official said.

This time the ministry would not seek any opinion from chamber bodies as most of the other issues of the TIFA were earlier discussed at various forums and agreed upon, trade officials said.

Meanwhile, the law ministry approved the draft agreement recently with giving a note that the inclusion of word 'corruption' with the agreement would not demean the country's image as feared in the past, sources said.

'Desiring to promote transparency and (to eliminate bribery and corruption) in the international trade and investment.' are the clause the US negotiators were insisting on Bangladesh to incorporate in the text.

Dhaka and Washington started negotiations on TIFA in March 2003 and finalised the draft text during the third round of talks in Dhaka in February 2005.

Washington inserted the words 'elimination of corruption and bribery' in the preamble of the third draft of the agreement in early 2005.

Betsey Stillman, a senior US trade policy adviser for Asia and Pacific affairs represented the US during the third round negotiation.

The previous rounds were held in Dhaka in August 2003 and March 2004, and attended by US assistant trade representative Ashley Wills.

The negotiated draft acknowledges that the 'economic divide', which exists between the US and Bangladesh, should be taken into consideration when the two countries exchange goods and services under any future trading arrangement.

The acknowledgement will pave the path for duty-free or preferential treatment of Bangladeshi products in the US market in future, believes the commerce ministry.

Besides, the draft calls for formation of a joint council