By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS – The European Commission proposed on Wednesday that developing countries wishing to prosper from access to EU markets should uphold environmental and governance standards and adhere to extra commitments on human and labour rights.
The European Union has run its ‘generalised scheme of preferences’ (GSP) for five decades and for its latest update, to run from 2024, wants a greater stress on its own Green Deal strategy and goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
The 27-nation bloc will continue to operate three GSP strands to give preferential trade access to 67 countries without any need for reciprocity.
Duty-free, quota-free “Everything but Arms” (EBA) applies to the least developed countries.
A second band groups lower and lower-middle income countries such as India and Nigeria which benefit from a partial removal of duties on two-thirds of products under standard GSP.
GSP+, with zero tariffs on those two thirds of products, is offered to a third group of countries including Pakistan and the Philippines that implement 27 international conventions on human and labour rights, the environment and good governance.
Under the European Commission’s new proposal, to cover the 10 years from 2024, six new conventions will be added, including the Paris climate change agreement and ones covering rights for people with disabilities and trans-national organised crime.
Currently, the EU can withdraw preferential market access due to violations of human or labour rights. Under the proposal, such rights could also be withdrawn over breaches of environmental and good governance conventions.
It would also add the export of goods made by forced labour or prohibited child labour as grounds for withdrawal.
The withdrawal process could be shortened to seven from 18 months under the proposal, which will need approval by the European Parliament and EU national governments.
EBA and standard GSP countries do not have to implement the conventions, but need broadly to uphold the principles.
The EU last year reinstated duties on Cambodian products including garments and footwear over what it considered serious human rights violations.
The Commission also sees a potential surge in GSP+ applications as a number of nations, such as Bhutan and the Solomon Islands, graduate from the least developed group and no longer qualify for zero tariffs on all goods except arms.
Those countries wishing to continue benefiting from the GSP+ access will need to reapply.