Thursday September 23, 2021

GSP and labour rights

July 18, 2021

The General Scheme of Preferences (GSP) of the European Union has been beneficial to Pakistan in many ways. One of them is the enhancement of bilateral trade and economic ties between the EU and Pakistan. Recently, the ambassador of the EU in Pakistan and the Pakistan Business Council (PBC) held talks to strengthen business with a particular focus on small and medium enterprises (SMEs). One of the areas of concern for the EU has been the implementation in Pakistan of conventions on human rights and labour standards so that the GSP Plus status that the EU granted to Pakistan could continue without any hurdles. Just like on the FATF front, Pakistan has been making significant improvements in certain areas, but it needs to do a lot more in other sectors as well. The EU reviews Pakistan’s progress on reforms and implementation of conventions biennially and expects Pakistan to abide by all the provisions of these conventions.

Since Pakistan gains special trade incentives thanks to its GSP Plus status, it cannot afford to lose any of these privileges at this time when the economy is in dire need of succour from wherever it can get. If the EU ends up withdrawing these incentives from Pakistan just because it is not fully abiding by the obligations, it will not be an unforeseen punishment as the EU has been clarifying. Each biennial report of the EU must testify that substantial progress has been made in the direction of implementing labour rights and standards. There are 27 conventions that Pakistan has signed including the one calling for legislation for the protection of journalists. The way the government has been dragging this legislation for the past three years is disappointing; only Sindh has shown commitment to the legislation on protecting journalists. So far, Pakistan has been able to show progress on some of the conventions of the 27 that Pakistan has signed.

As we have seen in the past, just by signing various conventions countries do not make sure that they are meeting all their commitments. There is a need to expedite reforms and steps for legislation on disappearance, torture, abuse, and inspection of factories to meet all EU obligations. Pakistan must appreciate that the GSP Plus status from the EU has created employment opportunities at multiple levels of the economy. We need to keep these jobs secure so that Pakistan can avert an impending economic crisis which is already knocking at our doors. The GSP Plus status has helped Pakistan in dealing with economic and financial challenges that the country finds itself in every now and then. If we lose this status, it will adversely affect Pakistan’s economy to a great extent. That is why the government must take it seriously and continue working for the fulfillment of all its obligations in terms of human rights and labour standards.