EU: Reform trade schemes to address human rights issues

Brussels, Paris, 3 May 2017: The European Union (EU) should reform its trade preference schemes to address human rights issues in beneficiary countries, FIDH said today, prior to the EU’s mid-term review of its Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP).

In a position paper on the Mid-Term Evaluation of the EU’s GSP released today, FIDH and its member leagues cited cases in Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Pakistan, and the Philippines as examples of beneficiary countries in which trade preference agreements either fuelled or failed to address human rights violations. FIDH draws particular attention to the case of Cambodia, in which the granting of Everything But Arms (EBA) preferences has led to numerous human rights violations, including forced evictions and relocations linked to land concessions given to sugar cane companies for the production of sugar that was exported to EU markets.

"For over a decade, thousands of rural communities in Cambodia have suffered the devastating impacts of the GSP. It is a clear example of the European Commission’s mistaken assumption that increased investment due to preferential trade schemes will necessarily lead to positive outcomes for the poor.”

Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President.

In Bangladesh, despite the government’s ongoing failure to deliver on its human rights commitments, the EU has repeatedly refused to initiate a withdrawal procedure under the EBA agreement to respond to the serious violations of human rights - particularly of labor rights.
In countries that remain plagued by grave human rights violations, the EU has neglected to identify priorities, actions to be implemented, and timelines for ensuring the country’s compliance with its obligations under international human rights conventions.

Our organisations believe that by strengthening existing monitoring mechanisms, the EU can reinforce the leverage potential of trade preference schemes and its response to human rights violations in beneficiary countries. Suggestions for improvement in monitoring mechanisms include making country scorecards public and GSP dialogues transparent, and ensuring that EU visits and dialogues focus on the implementation of all human rights conventions to which beneficiary countries are state parties. In addition, FIDH calls on the EU to consider individual human rights cases as part of their assessment of the human rights situation in the respective countries.

In its recommendations, our organisations call on the EU to establish additional “problem solving mechanisms” that affected populations can use to prevent or seek redress for human rights violations that occur as a result of trade policies.

FIDH and its member leagues also urges the EU to extend eligibility criteria and monitoring mechanisms already in place as part of trade preference agreements. While eligibility criteria and monitoring mechanisms currently apply to GSP+ beneficiary countries, they do not apply to countries under the EBA agreement or other trade preference schemes.

Finally, our organisations demands the EU establish clear and objective criteria that can trigger the withdrawal of trade preferences as a result of human rights violations.

Read more