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World|politics|August 15, 2023 / 08:46 AM
Pakistan may lose GSP Plus status over violations of international conventions

AKIPRESS.COM - Pakistan may not get extension to the European Union’s (EU) 10-year preferential trade arrangement ‘GSP Plus’ as the country has failed on several international conventions that include good governance, human and labour rights. Moreover, it could not achieve poverty reduction and sustainable development in Pakistan as envisaged by the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) scheme, Inside Over reported.

The EU accounted for 28 percent of the total exports from Pakistan in 2020, and 78 percent of these exports received zero-duty benefits due to the GSP Plus status. Now, the EU has made the conditions for the GSP Plus scheme, which allows duty free access of over 66 percent of goods, more stringent for the next round. Now the countries will have to submit a plan of action to implement over 30 conventions to be eligible for the GSP Plus scheme.

In such scenario, the blatant human rights violations, blasphemy laws and rising religious intolerance, economic crisis and political instability appear to have created roadblocks for Pakistan’s re-entry to the GSP Plus club. EU officials find the new conditions are likely to pose challenges to Pakistan’s prospects. There have been demands from businesses and intellectuals in Pakistan to take necessary measures to meet the requirements of GSP Plus.

Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) Executive Director Karamat Ali said human rights and labour rights was the most serious challenges for the country. “There are severe restrictions on human rights ’ organisations as they are unable to exercise their fundamental right i.e., freedom of speech,” he said. Women abuse, deteriorating press freedom, rising case of enforced disappearances, growing political instability in Pakistan have been violating the GSP Plus conditions. In 2018, EU Parliament had debated withdrawing Pakistan’s GSP Plus status due to death penalty in 28 crimes including blasphemy and adultery. Citing thousands of death penalties, European Parliament member Barbara Matera said “This position stands in contrast with European trade policy, especially evident in the trade benefit programme GSP+.” Pakistan has refused to abolish death penalty.

Germany, the most influential member country of the EU, has warned Pakistan of losing GSP Plus status for blocking imports. “Pakistan runs the risk of losing further benefits from GSP+ and its succeeding regime if German companies ’imports are blocked,” said German Ambassador Alfred Grannas. Notably, Germany had supported Pakistan’s bid for the GSP Plus status in 2013. Islamabad government’s inability to control anti-France protests, which had forced French companies and citizens to leave the country, is going add to the problem. EU Parliament had in 2021 adopted a resolution seeking to review the trade relations with Pakistan and scrapping Pakistan’s GSP Plus status. Arif Rafiq, President of US-based Vizier Consulting warned Pakistan of losing GSP Plus status as the Islamabad government was seen buckling under pressure from the extremists during the anti-France protests.

The objectives of the GSP scheme seek to contribute to poverty reduction through export boosts and to promote sustainable development and good governance. However, these objectives were not fulfilled in the case of Pakistan, said the European Institute of Asian Studies. “In fact, much of the advantages of the EU’s preferential trade scheme in Pakistan are pocketed by the business elite and modern Zamindars (feudal landlords), with little positive impact on the poorest levels of society as envisioned by the GSP+ framework,” its assessment revealed. The European Parliament had in 2021 passed a resolution to reconsider GSP Plus privileges to Pakistan over the ties with Taliban. “Pakistan is assisting the Taliban in fighting the NRF by supplying its special forces and providing air support; whereas Taliban fighters have been provided with safe havens in Pakistan for many years,” read the resolution. Dr Siegfried O. Wolf, Director of Research at Brussels-based South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF), demanded the GSP Plus status of Pakistan be removed as a punishment for being the state sponsor of terrorism.

Now, the EU is monitoring the implementation of international conventions by Pakistan, and results are not positive. The situation in Pakistan remains “troubling”, said European Parliament member Peter van Dalen. “The human rights situation continues to be a cause for alarm, with constant challenges posed by blasphemy cases. Persistent political instability shows no signs of subsiding, and the recent arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan is just the latest development in this regard,” he told the European Parliament.

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