Experts have urged the government to make comprehensive preparations immediately to ensure that Bangladesh gets the GSP plus facility in the European Union market after graduating from the least developed country (LDC) status.
They said this is needed to maintain stability in export earnings by overcoming the loss of trade benefits associated with LDC graduation.
Addressing a webinar arranged by the Bangladesh-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Wednesday, they also urged the authorities to formulate an extensive transition strategy as well as to start negotiations for extending the existing trade benefits and availing special trade benefits in other countries like Japan, Canada, China, and India.
Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, presented the keynote titled "LDC Graduation of Bangladesh: Are We Ready for GSP plus?".
He said the European Commission is now working on GSP plus scheme issues and that is why it was high time for Bangladesh to prepare itself to secure access to the EU market.
The economist said the commission would send the proposal for GSP plus scheme to the European parliament by June.
"It will then be a challenging task for Bangladesh to convince the European parliament, which does not discuss any technical issues and only concentrates on social, labour, and governance issues," he added.
Debapriya further said it was high time Bangladesh had a cohesive, dynamic, and inclusive transition strategy for the GSP plus scheme and to link it with other global initiatives, particularly taken by the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations.
He said 71 countries are eligible for utilising the GSP plus scheme in Europe but only eight are accessing it.
"The scheme is very difficult to access as you have to ensure good governance and rule of law."
Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of Policy Research Institute, said compliance with labour and environment issues is needed to secure GSP plus but ensuring compliance would be a difficult task.
"Attaining GSP plus benefits would be a contentious issue and not an easy one," he added.
He stressed capacity development of the ministries and other agencies to hold negotiations for securing benefits and signing free trade agreements (FTA).
Persuasive diplomatic initiatives along with substantive changes in some global conventions will be other important areas for securing the GSP plus scheme, he said.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association's new President Faruque Hassan said 61% of readymade garment exports to the EU market would come under new tariffs after the LDC graduation.
He recommended formulating an immediate and mid-term strategy to maintain competitiveness after the LDC graduation, which would result in Bangladesh losing many of the existing trade benefits, including duty-free exports to the EU.
He also stressed strategy, capacity building, and diplomatic engagement with the EU to seek an extension of the Everything but Arms (EBA) deal for 10 more years on grounds of exports and employment.
Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association former president Md Fazlul Hoque said Bangladesh should make all-out efforts to secure GSP plus and extend the EBA agreement.
"The government should lead the initiative and form a special committee comprising experts, think tanks, and business leaders to work on the issues," he added.
Md Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, ambassador of Bangladesh to Germany, said the EU is Bangladesh's largest export destination that accounts for more than 61% of total exports.
That is why the government initiated several processes to secure easy access to the market in order to export products from Bangladesh, he said.
He recommended signing and implementing FTAs with several countries while expressing dissatisfaction as the commerce ministry had signed just one FTA in the last 18 years.
Bangladesh-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Omar Sadat emphasised starting FTA negotiations with bilateral and multilateral trading partners to avoid severe consequences in exports.
Golam Murshed, managing director at Walton, said Bangladesh exports more than half of its electronics to Europe.
"The electronics sector is a prominent part in the GSP plus discussion agenda."
Shahed Akhtar, Bangladesh-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry's executive adviser and chief executive officer, moderated the webinar.