From left to right: Benedict M. Uy (Embassy of the Philippines), Anis Haroon (National Commission of Human Rights, Pakistan), Colette van der Ven (Sidley Austin LLP), Walter Van Hattum (DG TRADE), Octavio Gomes (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Communities, Cabo Verde).
In November 2018, I moderated a day-long conference in Brussels organized by Democracy Reporting International on the EU’s Generalized System of Preferences plus (GSP+) scheme, one of three EU schemes under which developing countries that meet the eligibility requirements can export 66% of all products into the EU duty free. Specifically, to receive GSP+ benefits, countries must (i) meet the vulnerability thresholds, and (ii) ratify and effectively implement 27 human rights conventions. Failure to do so can result in the withdrawal of GSP+ preferences. The GSP+ scheme is the only one of the EU’s three GSP schemes that makes the receipt of preferences contingent on compliance with certain human rights conventions.
GSP+ beneficiaries as at December 2018 are: Armenia, Bolivia, Cabo Verde, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Paraguay, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
Has this scheme been effective in inducing ratification and implementation of human rights? Why has it had more success in some countries compared to others? And what is the role of business and civil society in strengthening the link between GSP+ and human rights? These were some of the questions debated by the panelists and conference participants, which included prominent human rights advocates and trade experts.
Speakers generally agreed that while the GSP+ scheme had encouraged human rights compliance, more could be done. Possible recommendations that were debated – with an eye towards the 2023 expiry of the EU GSP scheme – included enhancing transparency of the Commission’s human rights monitoring; strengthening the role of civil society in the human rights monitoring process; making better use of preference withdrawal; and activating partial withdrawal in response to failure to ratify and/or effectively implement the 27 human rights conventions (an option that is currently provided for under the current GSP regulation but has never been used).
The emphasis on enhancing transparency and inclusiveness aligns with the Commission’s Mid-Term Recommendations to the EU Parliament and Council, published in October 2018, recommending to “improv[e] transparency in GSP+ monitoring and better involv[e] civil society both in the EU and in the beneficiary countries”.
Please click here to access the full conference report.