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US trade privilege cut is 'opportunity' for Dhaka

Bangladeshi pedestrians gather at the site of a building collapse in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka on June 24, 2013
Bangladeshi pedestrians gather at the site of a nine-storey building collapse in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka on June 24, 2013. After announcing key trade privilege cuts, the US pledged to help Bangladesh reform its labor safety standards, saying Dkah

The United States Friday pledged to work with Bangladesh to help reform its labor safety standards and win back key trade privileges, saying Dhaka should seize the opportunity.

"Successfully addressing these underlying labor rights and workplace safety issues will help ensure that there's never another fire or collapse like we saw," acting deputy State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.

Bangladesh has reacted with fury to Thursday's announcement by President Barack Obama that it was losing its duty-free trade privileges for failing to protect the rights of workers.

But Ventrell insisted that "the United States believes this moment represents an opportunity for Bangladesh to take action to improve labor safety standards."

"The US will work with Bangladesh in the steps needed to potentially restore its (trade) privileges, but that requires going through a process so that Bangladesh can make improvements."

Bangladeshi officials have said Dhaka has enacted a series of reforms since the April 24 collapse of a factory complex in which 1,129 people were killed -- the latest in a series of disasters to blight the industry.

But Ventrell said Washington was looking to see an improvement in worker and safety rights, including the right of collective bargaining.

"We want to see the Bangladeshi economy succeed," he said, adding that for Dhaka the cut in privileges "crystalizes their decision-making."

"We think that there are important economic opportunities to lift more people out of poverty into the middle class, and there are great economic opportunities. But it has to be done in the context of better labor and safety standards."

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