Pakistan's preferential trade access in peril as EU asks Islamabad to work on human rights

Pakistan needs to do more on the rapid implementation of international human rights conventions, said a senior European Union official, if Islamabad wanted the continuation of its Generalized Status of Preference (GSP) Plus status, a system under which most Pakistani goods enjoy duty-free access to the EU market

Nov 15, 2021
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EU asks Islamabad to work on human rights

Pakistan needs to do more on the rapid implementation of international human rights conventions, said a senior European Union official, if Islamabad wanted the continuation of its Generalized Status of Preference (GSP) Plus status, a system under which most Pakistani goods enjoy duty-free access to the EU market. 

Amid what is seen as the growing deterioration of the human rights situation in Pakistan, the EU parliament has so far adopted two resolutions, indicating the continuation of the GSP Plus status is linked with the implementation of the human rights regime. 

“We would like to see a bit more rapid implementation of the laws, particularly anti-torture law, sexual violence, and protection of women and children rights,” European Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautala was quoted as saying by The Express Tribune newspaper.

The EU remains Pakistan’s largest export destination, with goods worth over €3 billion --roughly 11 percent-- exported to the block in the first half of the current year. The country got the status in 2014, which is scheduled to expire in 2023. Furthermore, the EU has now unveiled a new regime for further continuing the status. 

Pakistan came under scrutiny over the blatant misuse of blasphemy laws, continued persecution of religious and other minority groups, and shrinking space for media and civil society. Furthermore, heightened protests against France, an influential EU member state, by extremist Islamist groups in Pakistan raised eyebrows in the EU. 

“The EU member states are fully in solidarity with each other,” Heidi said on anti-France protests by the TLP, a hardline Islamist group, which has been seeking the expulsion of the French ambassador. “Such drastic demand by people is clearly negative and is an excessive reaction to what may have happened,” she warned. 

Heidi also informed that there would be an EU Monitoring Mission very soon in Pakistan, with a long list of questions to be asked from the government about the implementation of these laws. And, the continuation of the GSP Plus, she said, was not guaranteed. 

The loss of the GSP Plus status would be a severe blow to the country’s economy, which has already been struggling for some years, amid growing bills of imports. 

The country’s textile and cloth industry--which accounts for almost 80 percent of Pakistan’s total exports to the EU-- won’t survive without the GSP Plus status. The industry is also one of the largest job creators in Pakistan. Trade unions have already urged the government to safeguard the status for the survival of the industry. 

(SAM)