EU trade preferences scheme can do more for human rights say unions

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EU trade preferences scheme can do more for human rights say unions

European and Global Unions have today released a report calling on the EU to strengthen its 'GSP' trade system to make sure beneficiary countries are meeting their human rights and environmental obligations.

The EU's Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) offers access to EU markets for developing countries in exchange for them improving their respect for key human rights and environmental standards. Yet the record of the scheme has been weak in delivering real improvements on the ground.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have prepared a response to the EU's proposed changes to the scheme outlining key reforms to finally make this system work properly, including establishing a public and transparent review process for countries failing to effectively implement their human rights commitments.

Download the report.

Trade union response to the EU's Generalised System of Preferences proposal: executive summary

The ETUC and ITUC response to the EU's proposed new regulation for its Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) offers a series of observations and recommendations to ensure that countries benefitting from GSP are better implementing their sustainable development and good governance commitments.

Although the GSP has been successful in pressing beneficiary countries to ratifying the core labour rights conventions, it has had little effect in getting those countries to effectively implement the conventions in domestic law and practice. The Commission's new GSP proposal contains welcome features, such as allowing the Commission to consult additional sources of relevant information and shifting the burden of proof of compliance onto beneficiary countries. However, to be most effective in driving change, the GSP scheme must contain firmer and clearer expectations on beneficiary countries, provide for civil society participation in monitoring and review of implementation and be far more transparent.

Key changes to the new GSP regulation that the ITUC and ETUC are calling for include:

For all GSP arrangements (*):

Introduce a public submission process which can lead to the initiation of an investigation, public hearings and a final decision on initial eligibility (as regards GSP+) and continuing eligibility (as regards all arrangements) (see pages 12 to 15).

Increase transparency by publishing its decisions, its rationales and the evidence considered when granting, suspending or terminating preferences.

Coordinate with other GSP granting countries and other countries that have sustainable development commitments under trade agreements (see page 15).

For GSP+

Remove the 'serious failure' test in Article 9(1)(b) for GSP+ beneficiaries. The Commission is proposing only to reject applications from beneficiary countries if there is a 'serious failure' to effectively implement the required international conventions. This sets the bar much lower than the current GSP+ test and risks undercutting existing international commitments (see page 8). Further, as to initial eligibility, the Commission should not refer only the reports of the relevant monitoring bodies (id.).

For GSP and EBA

Require countries to progressively improve their effective implementation over time. Many countries on this arrangement scheme have made no progress on improving their poor record on labour rights and some have gone backwards. As a first step, countries should be expected to bring their domestic legislation in line with the conventions over a reasonable transition period (see pages 8 to 9).

Trade unions look forward to continuing to engage with the EU over the development of an effective regulation, especially over the drafting of the delegated acts envisaged in the draft regulation. Many of the proposals in this submission can be addressed there.

(*) The EU's GSP contains three arrangements: (i) the general arrangement, applying to any developing countries; (ii) the special incentive arrangement (often called 'GSP+') which grants additional trade preferences to countries effectively implementing international human rights and environment conventions; and (iii) the Least Developed Countries arrangement which grants full market access for 'Everything but Arms' (often called 'EBA').

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