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Islamabad [Pakistan], March 23 (ANI): A significant beneficiary of European Union's GSP Plus scheme, Pakistan is having a tough time securing a renewal of the facility for the next period starting 2024.

The GSP Plus or Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus is a special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance.

The country which has been enjoying the facility since 2014 has immensely gained from the zero import duty on 66 pc of the tariff lines. Due to it, Pak exports to EU increased substantially from EUR3.56 billion in 2013 to EUR6.64 billion in 2021, mostly in the textile, leather, sports and surgical goods sectors.

In return, the EU expects Islamabad to adopt laws and policies to improve its compliance to the globally accepted standards of corporate and social behavior by implementing 27 UN conventions. However, the list is expected to get longer under the new GSP Plus scheme effective 2024 with inclusion of additional conventions covering rights of persons with disabilities, involvement of children in armed conflict, labor inspection, trans-national organized crimes, etc.

Pakistan is presently undergoing the fourth biennial review of GSP Plus which will determine the continuation of the benefits beyond 2023. Last year, the Directorate General Trade of European Commission (EC) asked for information on various actions taken by Pakistan for increasing compliance.

A delegation of sub-committee on Human Rights of European Parliament (EP) also visited Pakistan in September 2022 to discuss human rights. After the visit, EP highlighted the need to prevent the misuse of blasphemy laws by applying safeguards against false accusations. EU again raked up the issue of civil and political rights of minorities and at-risk groups during the 12th EU-Pakistan Joint Commission on October 5, 2022 in Islamabad.

During the last two years, EU and its various bodies have been pressing for freedom of religion or belief, importance of civil society organizations, freedom of expression and media. It has frequently pointed out violations of labour rights in Pakistan, including the inadequacy of the labour inspection system, occupational safety and health, ineffectiveness of labour courts, denial of workers' rights to strike, etc.

Apart from workers' conditions, the blatant misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan and state's ineffectiveness in tackling it is a major concern for the EU. Numerous cases of blasphemy stay pending in Pakistani courts leading to many falsely accused persons from minority groups languishing in prisons.

So far, neither the domestic laws nor the international law on human rights have succeeded in charting out the path forward for human rights in the country. Despite being a signatory to nine of the core human rights treaties in the international human rights law, Pakistan has not been able to achieve any real implementation. Reportedly, the EU is now demanding Islamabad to sign and ratify the relevant international agreements on human right including Rome Statute of International Criminality Court (ICC), First and Second protocols of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Notwithstanding EU's constant encouragement, the response of Pakistani leaders and authorities is of denial and avoidance. They repeatedly cite Pakistan's unique situation with respect to domestic laws and Shariah norms to express inability in ratifying the required conventions. To make matters worse, the country is known for subjecting the already ratified treaties to its ever changing constitution, which is itself subject to Shariah, which, in turn, is subject to interpretation. Pointing towards this problem, EU stated in its GSP report of 2018 that a lack of political will was one of the key reasons behind Pakistan's complacency towards ensuring compliance.

Apart from this, EU plans to link the scheme beyond 2024 to Pakistan agreeing to its migration and readmission policy. Nonetheless, for all the lack of progress on these issues, the usual Pakistani response has been around its vulnerable economic condition, poor population and domestic laws. Analysts however lament that the vested interest groups in the country will hamper any improvement in human right conditions while cornering the all benefits from the GSP Plus.

These include powerful exporter lobby of the country which enjoys significant tariffs benefits while depriving the weaker section of its basic rights. All long as these lobbies continue to call the shots in domestic policies, any meaningful reform would warrant a firm stance on the part of EU. (ANI)

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