EU Parliament Grants Pakistan Special Trade Status Despite Human Rights Warnings

BRUSSELS – The European Parliament warned Pakistan last week that the renewal of its favored status trade deal would be dependent upon the government’s release of a woman, Asia Bibi, who has been held on death row on a blasphemy case since 2010.

Prior to adjournment, however, the parliament voted to continue to extend economic favor to Pakistan despite the fact that the woman’s appeal is still pending in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The extracted delay has been decried as a human rights issue that must be addressed not only by the EU but by other organizations around the world.

From a global standpoint, the European Union has held the greatest leverage to prompt action by Pakistan leadership. The EU granted Pakistan Generalized System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) in 2013. Under this special trading status, 20% of the country’s exports to the EU have been tariff-free. Another 70% of their exports were tariffed at preferential rates.

In 2016, Pakistan exports to the EU were valued at € 6.173 billion (≈ $1.7 billion USD). That represented a 53.6% increase in export trade since gaining the GPS+ status. The loss of that status would deal the country a severe economic blow, in effect, making it incapable of competing successfully with other South Asian nations.

In light of a previous statement by Pakistani leadership that “gaining access to European markets was the top-most priority of the government,” the EU parliament pressed for action in the Asia Bibi case.

The case was reviewed by three Ministers of the European Parliament, including one from Pakistan. While the Christian Union Party lobbied against extending GPS+ status based “on questions regarding minority rights in Pakistan,” the recommendation to the parliament was to extend the special status base on the country’s ability to demonstrate “full and sincere compliance with 27 human rights conventions.”

Pakistan continues to enjoy the European Union’s GPS+ status. The human rights issue of Asia Bibi is ongoing but remains unresolved.


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