Economists and experts on Thursday said that Bangladesh should negotiate issues related to trade benefits in the 13th ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation not as a least developed country but as a soon-to-be non-LDC developing country in an aim to make the graduation sustainable.

At a knowledge sharing session on ‘13th Ministerial Conference of the WTO: What Stakes for Bangladesh?’ held at the National Press Club in the capital Dhaka, economists said that at the upcoming MC13, the LDCs should advocate for extending trade benefits for graduating LDCs.

Local thinktank Research and Policy Integration for Development with support from Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the United Kingdom organised the programme.

The MC13 would take place from February 26-29 in Abu Dhabi.

Economic affairs adviser to the prime minister Mashiur Rahman attended the programme as chief guest.

Former senior secretary Sharifa Khan, Centre for Policy Dialogue distinguished fellow Mustafizur Rahman, trade policy analyst Mostafa Abid Khan, RAPID chairman MA Razzaque, Prothom Alo online head Shawkat Hossain Masum and The Financial Express planning editor Asjadul Kibria spoke at the event.

Experts in the event said that WTO members would have issues of differing priorities for the MC13.

Securing an agreement on fisheries subsidies negotiation, embarking on border reforms and dysfunctional dispute settlement system would be key issues in the conference, they said.    

Mustafizur Rahman said that Bangladesh would have to keep in mind the interest of the developing countries during the negotiation in the WTO.

He said that Bangladesh would have to take preparation for some reforms as the country would graduate in November 2026.

After the graduation, Bangladesh would not get TRIPS waiver and the country would have to pay for patent licence to produce medicine, he said.

Bangladesh should go for reverse engineering which could allow the country to use the formula without paying any charge, Mustafiz said.

Regarding fisheries subsidy, he said that Bangladesh would face challenges concerning the issue after graduation as the subsidy would be allowed for a developing country if its share of global marine fish catch did not exceed 0.8 per cent, but that of Bangladesh crossed the threshold.

Mustafiz said that the government agencies considered hilsa as marine-caught fish but the country extracted the fish from river bodies.

He suggested that Bangladesh should revise its calculation of marine fish catch.

During the negotiation in the MC, the ministers of the LDCs should be reminded of political directions that their heads of government took for sustainable graduation strategy which was adopted at Doha Summit in March 2023.     

Mashiur Rahman said that, after the LDC graduation, Bangladesh would not be entitled for TRIPS waiver and the pharmaceutical sector would face pressure as the country made some delay in taking preparation to face the challenges.  

He said that Bangladesh still had no preparation to extract marine resources or a blue economy.

A separate ministry of a dedicated agency was needed to extract the marine resources, Mashiur said.

Sharifa Khan said that, after the LDC graduation, Bangladesh would enjoy duty-free market access up to 2029 and after that, the country would not get duty-free market access in the European countries.

For availing duty-free access, the country would have to apply to the European Union and implement 32 international conventions, including human rights and rules of law, she said.

‘Bangladesh has signed all the conventions but there are some problems in implementation. After fulfilling all the conditions, there was a question whether or not readymade garment would get duty-free market access,’ Sharifa said.

She also said that Bangladesh should go for reverse engineering for using patent licences without any fee in producing pharmaceuticals even after the LDC graduation.

‘It is likely that many issues will remain unresolved in the MC13 as divergent views among various member states on a multitude of issues have made reaching a consensus challenging,’ MA Razzaque said.

He suggested that Bangladesh should play a proactive role using the MC13 platform and making its contribution to revive multilateralism.

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