GSP plus and Pakistan
THE EU launched GSP Plus Programme in 1971 to allow duty-free import of goods from developing countries to nudge and encourage sustainable development and good governance in them.
It is a kind of incentives arrangement and the beneficiaries are included in the programme for a period of three years on the basis of having ratified and implemented 27 UN conventions regarding human rights, good governance and environment. Pakistan has already ratified those conventions.
The EU for the first time accorded GSP Plus status to Pakistan in 2014 and since then it has been extending the facility every three years after reviewing the progress on the issues stipulated in the UN Conventions. Last time it was granted in March 2020 till 2022.
The arrangement allows duty free access of Pakistani good, especially textiles into 27 member countries of the EU.
Since the grant of GSP Plus in 2014, Pakistan’s exports to the European Union enhanced from 4.538 billion euros in 2013 to 7.492 billion euros in 2019, registering an increase of 65%.
The main sectors that benefited from GSP Plus have been textile and garments which, besides earning foreign exchange for the country, provided employment opportunities, especially for females.
The foregoing facts amply reveal how crucial is it for Pakistan to continue enjoying GSP status.
But the continuation of this facility to Pakistan seems under threat as a result of a resolution passed by the EU Parliament by 681 votes to 3 calling on the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to immediately review Pakistan’s eligibility for GSP+ status in the light of recent events and whether there is sufficient reason to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of this status and the benefits that come with it, and to report to the European Parliament on this matter as soon as possible.
The resolution expressed ‘deep concern’ at the prevailing anti-French sentiment in the country, and called on the Government of Pakistan to ‘unequivocally condemn’ incitement to violence and discrimination against religious minorities.
It also observed that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are increasingly used for personal or political vendetta in violation of the rights to freedom of religion and belief and of opinion, citing the case of a Christian couple, Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges in 2014.
It stressed that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were not in line with international human rights laws, and increasingly used to target vulnerable minority groups in Pakistan adding that freedom of religion or belief, freedom of speech and expression, and minority rights, are human rights and are guaranteed by Pakistan’s Constitution.
It called on Pakistan to unequivocally condemn incitement to violence and discrimination against religious minorities in the country and urged Pakistan to put in place effective, procedural and institutional safeguards at the investigative, prosecutorial and judicial levels to prevent the abusive use of these laws.
The resolution coming in the backdrop protest by the TLP demanding expulsion of the French Ambassador, which regrettably saw ugly scenes of violence, is a cause of concern for Pakistan which has a struggling economy.
The alarming aspect of the resolution is that it has been adopted with a thumping majority of the members of the EU Parliament.
The withdrawal of this status could have very serious economic repercussions, particularly at a time when Pakistan is struggling to get off FATF grey list.
Pakistan has decided to allay the fears of EU on the issues pointed out in the resolution and efforts are on the anvil to bring legislation in that regard.
But the Prime Minister chairing the cabinet meeting which discussed the resolution unequivocally said that there could be no compromise on the blasphemy law; rightly so.
The issue is not related to only Pakistan but pertains to all the Muslim countries and the Muslim Diaspora living in the West.
Therefore the Prime Minister is right in saying that the issue needed to be tackled at the OIC level.
Pakistan, under his stewardship, has already taken a number of initiatives at the global level to impress upon the western countries the need for interfaith harmony and refraining from equating Islam to terrorism and violence.
Talking to Islamabad-based Ambassadors of OIC countries last week, the PM said that all Muslim countries should come together to eliminate the permeating Islamophobia in the West which was instrumental to publication of a book, caricatures and comments hurling insults at the Last Prophet (PBUH).
He asserted that the western minds did not understand the love and respect Muslims have for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the Muslim countries needed to tell the West that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is someone who lives in our hearts and no one can ridicule or mock him under the garb of freedom of expression.
It is absolutely impossible to take an issue with the stance that the Prime Minister has taken on the issue or to belittle the efforts that the government has made to deal with it.
There are no two opinions about the fact every Muslim feels hurt when an act of blasphemy is committed in the West.
They have the right to protest and must do it to let the blasphemers know about their sentiments in a peaceful manner. The solution, however, does not lie in expelling the French Ambassador from Pakistan.
It will not achieve the objective of stopping blasphemy in the western world, rather it could invoke retaliatory measures from the EU countries enjoying political solidarity. The EU resolution is a stark reminder of that possibility.
Pakistan is not an island. It is a member of the global community where issues can be resolved through engagement and dialogue.
Those who indulge in violent protests and damage private and public property besides challenging the writ of the state need to revisit their outlook.
— The writer is former Director General Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, based in Islamabad.