Bahrain businesses condemn move on FTA
Manama, May 8, 2011
Businessmen have condemned a major US labour organisation's call to suspend a free trade pact with Bahrain following the sacking and detention of union leaders.
The American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) is petitioning the US to suspend its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Bahrain, which came into effect in August, 2006.
US trade officials have up to six months to respond to the appeal, filed last week in Washington, said Jeff Vogt, deputy director of the AFL-CIO's international department.
But the AFL-CIO is seeking a fast-track review because of the alleged "severity" of the crackdown and Bahrain's role as a leader in labour rights in the Gulf, where many other nations outlaw unions or worker groups, he added.
The petition claims that leaders of the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions (GFBTU) have faced detention or dismissal.
Bahrain business leaders criticised the AFL-CIO move and claimed, if successful, it would cause further harm to unions and members because businesses would be affected.
They also claim that the AFL-CIO is acting on misleading and biased information and that the actions of the GFBTU would not be tolerated in their own country.
Bahrain Chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce president and Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) board member Adel Al Safar claimed the recent action by Bahrain trade unions would never be allowed to happen in the US.
He believes that the AFL-CIO had been misinformed of what happened in Bahrain and should not have raised the petition.
"We strongly believe the action taken by the (Bahrain trade) unions wasn't done by the rules and regulations of the country," he told the Gulf Daily News, our sister newspaper.
"In every country in the world there is a system and procedures and the US I believe was misguided on this because the way strikes took place were against rules and regulations.
"We all sympathise with the situation but we must admit what is wrong and what is right. We as the business community were against such strikes to start with - you need unity in such situations."
Al Safar said he was surprised the AFL-CIO should want to suspend the FTA and harm businesses in Bahrain. "If there is any action to be taken you don't take it against businesses and do more harm. You are harming yourself," he said.
Leading economist and businessman Dr Yousef Mashal said the AFL-CIO should reconsider its position.
"I sent a question to the AFL-CIO, if your labourers go and close Wall Street in New York or 16th Avenue in Washington DC and put up tents there and call for the death of leaders and cause commotion and corruption, will your union accept to keep them in the union?" he asked.
Dr Mashal claimed that if the FTA was suspended it would cause more harm to businesses in the US than Bahrain.
He said the FTA had proven to be more beneficial to the US economy than Bahrain's.
Last year total imports from US to Bahrain stood at $1,249.6 million, but exports from Bahrain to the US were only $420.2 million, which to Bahrain is a total trade deficit of $829 million.
In the latest figures available, imports from the US to Bahrain stood at $85 million in January and $236.4 million in February, whereas exports from Bahrain to the US were $29.7 million in January and $55.2 million in February, a total deficit of $236.5m. - TradeArabia News Service