EU has conveyed that Philippine government should urgently address human rights issues as it concludes its monitoring on the country’s compliance with international conventions, which serve as basis for the continued zero duty privilege of the country’s exports to the 27-member nation bloc.
In a statement, the EU said that the team of EU officials who traveled from Brussels to carry out an official monitoring mission to the Philippines from Monday 28 concluded their mission Friday, March 4.
“The EU conveyed a message of urgency to the Filipino authorities to address all these issues of concerns,” EU said in a statement.
They reviewed the country’s progress in implementing the 27 UN and ILO international conventions ratified and applicable under the Special Incentive Arrangement under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP+), covering the areas of human and labor rights, environment and climate as well as good governance.
Over the week, the officials held wide-ranging meetings with representatives of the Filipino Government, including the Departments of Trade, Justice, Labor and Employment, Environment and Natural Resources, the Presidential Human Rights Committee, the National Police, the Dangerous Drugs Board, the Drug Enforcement Agency and other relevant government services and agencies. The officials also met with representatives of civil society, including human right defenders, trade unions and employers, and had exchanges with EU Member States’ Ambassadors and UN agencies.
The monitoring mission addressed issues relating to human rights, the rule of law, labor relations, good governance and the protection of the environment. In particular, discussions focused on the government’s actions regarding the war on drugs, accountability for extrajudicial killings, restrictions of civil society space (including red tagging of human rights defenders), freedom of expression, opinion and media, anti-torture legislation, anti-terrorism laws, freedom of association, child labor, drugs policy, environment and climate change as well as corruption.
EU Ambassador to the Philippines Luc Véron said “The effective implementation of international commitments on trade and sustainable development forms the basis of the Philippine’s privileged access to the EU market. We have been working together with the Filipino government since the country joined the scheme in 2014. While my colleagues from Brussels recognize the level of engagement and the climate of frank discussions with the Filipino government, they also reiterated the need for tangible and measurable progress over time on issues of concern”.
Monitoring and engagement with the government of the Philippines is the subject of regular reports to the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers. The most recent report dates from 2020 and was accompanied by a document assessing progress by each GSP+ beneficiary country, including the Philippines.
The information gathered by the EU’s monitoring mission this week will feed into the next report that the Commission will present to the Parliament and the Council in the second part of 2022 on the general implementation of the Scheme, which will also include an assessment of progress regarding compliance with the 27 conventions by each GSP+ beneficiary, the statement added.
The EU GSP is a unilateral trade tool that eliminates tariffs on products coming into the EU from lower middle-income countries in exchange for commitments to effectively implement international conventions relating to sustainable development. The current scheme will expire at the end of 2023.
On 21 September 2021, the Commission has proposed to extend, with some modifications, the scheme until 2034. The EU Parliament and the Council are currently examining the Commission’s proposal. Beneficiary countries will have to reapply to join the new Scheme to continue enjoying preferential access to the EU market.
Earlier, Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez likened to “bullying” the recent threats from the EU Parliament to remove the export privilege due to alleged human rights abuses of the Duterte administration.
To date, Philippines still enjoys EU GSP+ preferences, and this actually redound to benefit the marginalized sectors of the economy, the fisherfolks, farmers, MSMEs, the workers in the value chain of the exporters, precisely fulfilling the objectives of the GSP+, which is to help address poverty and inequality. I don’t think they will be turning their back on these noble development objectives,” said Lopez, reacting to the recent EU Parliament Resolution on the recent human rights developments in the Philippines.
“It seems that some of their parliament members are misinformed. The allegations are not new, and are still unfounded. The government has always responded and been giving them the facts accordingly, and it has always facilitated the EU regular monitoring missions. It has been proven that Philippines is compliant with the 27 international core conventions on HR, labor, environment and good governance,” he added.
Under the EU GSP Plus, the Philippines enjoys zero duties on its exports to the EU of products falling under more than 6,000 tariff lines. In 2020, data EU said 26 percent of total Philippine exports to the EU or 1.6 billion euros enjoyed preferential treatment under this scheme.
The Philippine started enjoying the duty-free status privilege for its exports to the EU in Jan. 2014 until December 2023. It is the only nation in ASEAN eligible of the EU GSP Plus.
The GSP Plus, however, is a unilateral act of the EU to its trading partners as long as they comply and effectively implement 27 international conventions on human rights, labor rights, environmental protection and good governance.
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