Dhaka seeks continued assistance despite LDC graduation

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Bangladesh has called for a specific decision on facilitating duty-free benefits for an additional period to the countries that will graduate from the group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs). 

At the 13th ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) at Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates on Monday, Bangladesh also underscored the need for announcing assistance packages for the nations concerned in an effort to ensure a sustainable LDC graduation.

Earlier in October 2023, the WTO general council had decided that the countries that are scheduled to graduate from the LDC group will receive trade assistance for an extra period, but its compliance was left to the discretion of the member nations. 

Against such a backdrop, Bangladesh has urged the global trade body to make a decisive decision regarding the issue, according to sources attending the conference. The state minister for commerce, Ahasanul Islam, is leading the eight-member Bangladesh delegation at the event. 

Apart from trade benefits, other important issues for Bangladesh following its transition from the LDC group include the extension of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the pharmaceutical industry and the continuation of subsidy benefits in the fisheries sector.

On the opening day of the conference, Bangladesh placed some specific proposals on the issues and demanded that these benefits be continued to keep the trade and commerce unharmed following the LDC graduation.  

The 12th ministerial conference had decided that a further discussion will take place on potential assistance for the LDC graduating nations. Hence, the current conference will focus on the issue, said sources.  

Ministers of participating nations, including Bangladesh, presented their demands and perspectives on Monday. Alongside the state delegation, a number of economists and researchers joined the conference. 

Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), told Prothom Alo from Abu Dhabi that the demands raised by Bangladesh are rational not only for itself, but also other LDC graduating nations. 

“A trade assistance package is necessary not only for us but for all countries transitioning from the LDC group. However, even if there is a discussion, there is doubt whether a decision that favours countries like Bangladesh will be made or not. The highest aspirations will be expressed this time too, just like the 12th ministerial conference, but there are doubts about the outcomes in reality,” he said. 

The noted economist further said, “We have a demand on the fisheries sector; something may happen in this regard. But the proposal contains an unfilled box that asks - how many days the subsidies can be maintained. Besides, it seems that the issue of duty-free benefits will be left to the discretion of member states; no decisive decision is likely to come. The US has a strong position on TRIPS. For my money, the exemption period can be extended only in the case of vaccine property rights.”