Dhaka, Bangladesh (BBN)- Bangladesh has started taking all necessary preparations before replying to a notice of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) by January 31, a top official said in Dhaka.
“A lot of work has been done over the last four years regarding labour rights in Bangladesh. We have reviewed what will be included in the reply to the USTR notice,” Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed told a press briefing on Sunday after a meeting with the stakeholders.
He said the USTR moved forward to withdraw the GSP facility based on a petition submitted by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in 2007. 
After the petition, the US government had been reviewing the GSP facility for Bangladeshi products in its market. Hearing on the issue took place several times, Mr Ahmed said.
He said the USTR head recently wrote to the commerce minister expressing concern at the loss of lives in the fire incident at Tazreen Fashion Ltd and also about the bilateral relations and investments. The US ambassador in Dhaka also met the minister concerned to discuss the issue, he added.
Mr Ahmed said the issue had remained unsettled for years.
He elaborated that the AFL-CIO filed the petition over the labour rights issue in export processing zones (EPZ) and in the apparel and frozen food sectors as well as over fire incidents.
Representatives from ministries and departments concerned and the export-oriented sector attended the inter-ministerial meeting.
As the consequences to the deadliest fire incident at the Tazreen Fashions the country’s GSP facility in the US and the European market is now under threat.
A GSP subcommittee under the Trade Policy Staff Committee (TPSC) said that Bangladesh did not make much progress in addressing workers’ rights and so it was considering recommending that GSP benefits given to Bangladesh should be withdrawn, suspended or limited.
The recent move by the US Senators to review the special facility for Bangladesh on the ground of labour-related ‘disagreements’ gave rise to concern among the local exporters.
About 95 per cent of Bangladeshi products being exported to the US market now enjoy duty-free access, less than just one per cent of the country’s total exports.
BBN/SSR/AD-14Jan13-8:10 am (BST)