ISLAMABAD: The European Commission has retained Pakistan in its preferential trade access scheme while finding no grounds to exclude the country on demand of the European Parliament that passed two resolutions to review the Generalised Scheme of Preference-Plus (GSP+) status.
The extension will provide a relief to Pakistan, as the reduced rates of duties and taxes by the European countries under the preferential treatment has helped Pakistan to secure additional exports in the range of 1 billion to 1.5 billion euros a year since 2014.
The announcement was made by the European Commission (EC) on Wednesday from Brussels, Belgium. The commission has extended the Generalised Scheme of Preferences-Plus (GSP+) status to Pakistan till 2024, it said.
Media reports suggested that the commission attached six new conventions, mostly related to greater accessibility for people with physical disability, eradication of child labour and environmental safety.
Pakistan was granted GSP+ in 2014 and has shown commitment to maintaining ratifications and meeting reporting obligations to the United Nations Treaty Bodies for the 27 UN conventions.
The EU is Pakistan’s first export destination, absorbing over a third (34%) of Pakistan’s total exports to the world in 2018, followed by the US.
According to the media reports, the EC reviewed the status of several countries for the extension of the preferential status. However, it added that Pakistan’s individual status was not discussed.
According to a statement on Wednesday, the EC proposed 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 statement said that GSP+, with zero tariffs on two-thirds of products, was offered to a group of countries, including Pakistan and The Philippines that implement 27 international conventions on human and labour rights, the environment and good governance.
Pakistan’s exports to EU decreased in 2020 by over 9% but the extension has provided an opportunity to Islamabad to take maximum benefit from the scheme in the remaining period.
Under the commission’s new proposal, which covers a 10-year period 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.
Pakistan has been showing greater commitment to climate change and its recent drive can facilitate the new EC conditions.
In March 2020, the EU had extended Pakistan’s GSP plus status till 2022. The commission noted that Pakistan had made considerable progress when it came to labour laws and tackling climate change — two important conditions for the continental bloc to grant or extend a GSP+ status.
Since April this year, the European Parliament has passed two resolutions with an overwhelming majority to review Pakistan’s GSP+ status. However, the resolutions could not convince the European Commission to suspend its GSP+ status for Pakistan.
The European Parliament resolution of September 16, 2021 on the situation in Afghanistan gave more direct warning. The September resolution questions Pakistan’s role in “provision of safe havens for Taliban” and instructed the European External Action Service (EEAS) to consider if there was reason to immediately review Pakistan’s eligibility for GSP+ status in the light of current events.
The European Parliament had expressed its concern about the safety of Afghan nationals at high risk and those crossing to the neighbouring countries over land borders, in particular to Pakistan; and regretted the lack of coordination by the international community.