ISLAMABAD: In April 2021, the European Parliament has passed a resolution with a thumping majority to review trade with Pakistan under the EU’s GSP plus status. European Parliament passed this resolution with 662 votes while three members of the EU opposed it and 26 others did not vote for this resolution. In its resolution the European Parliament has mentioned cases of two Pakistanis, Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, who have been on death row since 2014 for sharing blasphemous text messages and observed that Pakistan was violating the GSP Plus agreement which promotes expression of freedom and equal rights for citizens.
As the European Parliament has passed this resolution with a majority, any time the EU can suspend GSP plus status which was granted to exports from Pakistan since 2014. Thus, GSP Plus withdrawal will not only put at stake half a billion euros annual increase in Pakistani exports but it will also cast its ugly shadow on $14 billion annual trade between Pakistan and Europe. Because Pakistan can also react by restricting its imports from European countries. For example, in the financial year 2019, Pakistan and European countries traded $14 billion worth goods that included $7.836 billion exports from Pakistan and $6.163 billion imports from Europe. It is a fact that the GSP Plus status has promoted Pakistan’s exports to Europe in recent years, but few people know that this development has also enhanced Pakistan’s imports from Europe significantly. Thus, both sides will suffer equally in case the European Parliament created tension by suspending GSP Plus status for Pakistan.
In 2014, European Union granted GSP Plus status to Pakistan as a result of which Pakistani exports to Europe gradually increased to 7.5 billion euros in 2019, from 4.53 billion euros in 2014, showing an increase of 2.97 billion euros during this period. On an average, after getting GSP Plus status, Pakistani exports have increased by half a billion euros every year. In US dollars, these exports are more than 600 million dollars per annum. Importantly, China, India, Thailand, Indonesia did not qualify for GSP Plus status, consequently, Pakistani exporters got benefit of this facility and enhanced their exports significantly to Europe since 2014. Withdrawal of GSP Plus status means that all the exports from Pakistan that were related to this scheme will, once again, be subjected to duties and taxes in Europe. In other words, Pakistani products, especially textile items, will face a tough competition with Chinese, Indian, and other major exporting countries products. Thus, experts believe that Pakistani exporters will not be in a position to retain their share of exports because of a tough competition in Europe amid the ongoing pandemic that has dampened economic activities in Europe and other countries in the world.
Apparently, the European Parliament has cited the case of two Pakistanis who are on a death row under blasphemy laws to reconsider GSP Plus status for Pakistan. Nonetheless, analysts believe that France’s row with Pakistan over publication of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), a religious party’s demand to expel French Ambassador from Pakistan for supporting Islamophobia are the real causes that have influenced European Union to put pressure on Pakistan to change blasphemy laws and curb protests against France. A few days ago the TLP has staged a country-wide protest in Pakistan, demanding from the government to expel French Ambassador as France was encouraging publication of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that hurt sentiments and feelings of Muslims all over the world. To fulfill a main demand of TLP, the Pakistan government presented a resolution in the Parliament to expel French Ambassador, but the parliament did not approve it. This move indicates that Pakistan wants to use diplomatic channels to convince France not to hurt feelings of Muslims by making mockery of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
There is a general perception that European Parliament represents the civilized nations. But why are the ‘sane countries’ fueling Islamophobia? This question is irritating for Muslims throughout the world. The European Parliament also overlooked Pakistani Prime Minister’s recent request to Facebook, France, and other countries to discourage Islamophobia. For example, in October 2020, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed French President Emmanuel Macron for fueling “Islamophobia.” PM Khan said that France must respect religious sentiments of Muslim and must not make mockery of Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Khan also wrote a letter to the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, urging him to block content pertaining to Islamophobia. In this letter, PM Khan supported universal religious harmony and tolerance.