Need for trade negotiation framework for a promising future

Need for trade negotiation framework for a promising future

Md. Joynal Abdin

The Financial Express on August 15, 2009

At present, the world is going through a transitional period. Global financial crisis, possibilities of shifting balance in power and new emerging eco-politics have made the transition visible. Countries are coming closer and negotiating at different levels to share comparative advantages for a better future. The multilateral trade negotiation gets a new momentum to conclude the Doha round under the World Trade Organisation (WTO). A new flow of regionalism has emerged in Asia, Africa and others parts of the world.

The success stories of the European Union (EU) led people to think of regional integration and economic cooperation. Bilateral trade agreements are increasing in number and are proving themselves effective and are performing well. As a result, cross border BFTAs (bilateral free trade agreements) get cross regional, even cross continental, form. In such a situation, countries are making preparations for negotiating agreements and achieving a win-win situation or reaping strategic advantages through negotiations.

Bangladesh is transforming itself into a developing economy from being a least developed one. It may become, in the process, an important player in the multilateral trading system with its strong potential in many areas. But prior preparation is required to gain from the same. But do we have that preparation, infrastructural support, skilled negotiators and the required research work to gain from negotiation table? Do we know our prospects and problems? Do we have sectoral potential charts? Or has the priority sector been opened up? The answer, in most cases, would be no. So we should make the preparation that Bangladesh needs to take now in order to deal with the trade negotiations professionally. These are:

01.    Establishing a Trade Negotiation Commission: Bangladesh should establish an independent “WTO, RTA and FTA Commission” to deal with its trade negotiations at the multilateral, regional or bilateral level. This commission would be an independent constitutional body like election commission, anti-corruption commission or tariff commission etc. This commission may have several departments to deal with different WTO agreements and different regional trade agreements. The status of the head of this commission may be equivalent to that of a full Secretary to the government. This commission would be responsible to conduct sectoral research, coordinating its work with private sector to identify our potentials and apply those while formulating policies. The commission, based on merit and professionalism on specific subjects, should recruit its officials. The status of the officers can be equivalent to those of first class cadre officers of the government with all other facilities that are being enjoyed by them. This commission will coordinate the activities with Ministry of Commerce, Export Promotion Bureau, Bangladesh Tariff Commission and relevant private sector bodies. It also will need to place skilled negotiators in Geneva mission with the Economic Minister as well. Initially, this commission may start work with the experts from WTO Cell of Ministry of Commerce, Bangladesh Tariff Commission, BFTI, FBCCI, EPB and other relevant organizations.

02.    Trade Promotion Offices in all our missions abroad: Bangladesh should immediately open up a trade promotion office in all its missions abroad for promoting its products in the host countries and identify potential sectors that can be our export destination to help boost export earnings. Human resources in these offices should be recruited from private sector specialists, think tanks and renowned international marketing experts. Officials should fill all posts of existing commercial councillors with recognized expertise in relevant areas of national, regional and international trade.

03.    One private sector professional representative in Geneva: The government should ensure the development of at least one private sector professional representative in its Geneva mission in order to assist the economic minister there in negotiations in line with the interests of the private sectors. At the same time, our existing trade negotiators’ team should team up with at least one private sector representative.

04.    One national trade database: A national trade database is essential. This can connect the activities of Ministry of Commerce, Bangladesh Tariff Commission, Bangladesh Bank, Ports, EPB, FBCCI, and the NBR. The database will hold a comprehensive trade statistics and national production, potential & priority sectors of production.

05.    Selecting Appropriate Person for International Training Programme: Every year a large number of government officers and private sector personnel participate in various international training programmes, assisted by multilateral organizations like the UN, WTO, WB, ADB and under various national projects. But presently the maximum number of nominations goes to the people having good relations with the top officials. Sometimes, the topics of the training may not be relevant to the future activities to those attending such programmes, at all. Foreign training programmes are largely taken as a picnic or foreign tours. An irrelevant person may not be an effective presenter in such an international gathering; through poor participation, our country’s image is impaired. This makes it all the more difficult to tap our potential. So nominations for such kinds of international meetings, conferences and training programmes should be made, basing on a person’s background, present knowledge, intellectual ability as well as future prospects for involvement of that person with the relevant task. In case of WTO International Training Programmes, nominations should be impartial and persons from relevant fields in both public and private sectors should be nominated. The government should ensure private sector involvement in such international training programmes for the latter’s capacity building. This can contribute to the nation’s development.

06.    Organising Capacity Building Training Programme: Government should take an active initiative to organize training programmes by engaging international organisations like the UN, WTO, WB, ADB etc. Funding can be arranged from them as well as resource persons can be hired from the relevant organizations. Private sector involvement in such training programmes should be ensured for capacity building.

07.    Regular Dialogue Between Government & Business Leaders: To solve so many problems and to make public private projects (PPPs) effective and worthwhile, the Prime Minister can sit with the business leaders on a regular basis, along with the relevant ministers like those of commerce, finance, industry and home affairs, along with the concerned secretaries. In this dialogue, the FBCCI can lead the private sector along with representatives from different sectors and the Prime Minister can lead the government side. Topics of discussions in such dialogues may include matters like, among things, cost of doing business, access to finance, current problems that businessmen are facing, initiatives that should be taken to ensure a business friendly environment and attract foreign investment in Bangladesh. The dialogue should be a continuous process with actual businessmen and ministers concerned participating in it.

In fine, this should be noted that public-private gap needs to be minimized. For what matter, active actions should be taken to ensure development of the country and achieve a prosperous tomorrow for Bangladesh.

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Md. Joynal Abdin

Development Researcher, Columnist and Author

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