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Philippines optimistic on outcome of new EU GSP+ review

MANILA, Philippines -  The Philippines has high hopes for a positive outcome of the European Union’s upcoming review of its Generalized System of Preferences Plus (GSP+), with the country claiming to have hurdled concerns earlier raised by the economic bloc.

Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo said the country has been able to address all issues cited by the EU in its monitoring report last year.

The four major issues are extrajudicial killings (EJK) of journalists, rights of “lumads” or indigenous people, rights of political prisoners and labor rights.

“We told them that we have gone over and beyond on our commitments on these,” Rodolfo said.

Rodolfo cited the country’s strict enforcement against “endo” or end-of-contract scheme as one of the moves undertaken by the government to address labor concerns.

“Even to the sacrifice of our competitiveness we did that. There is nothing in the international convention that prohibits subcontracting. It is only us in the whole of ASEAN, even in Asia, that implements that,” he said.

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To further amplify the country’s firm stance in addressing labor concerns, Rodolfo said the Departments of Trade and Industry and Labor and Employment would issue by the end of the month a joint department order on the certification of labor standards compliance for garments and textile industry exporters who take advantage of preferential schemes or GSPs.

“Before we export to the EU garments using the GSP, on our own, we will certify them first that they are compliant with our labor regulations. We’re self-imposing this on us and we’re the only ones who have this to ensure that we are not a sweatshop and we pay the right wages. Although initially you will look at this as somehow self-restricting but eventually, it will be a competitive advantage if we can show that the products that are made in the Philippines are done and produced by workers who are being treated well by the companies,” Rodolfo said.

“So what we told the EU is, why are you targeting us when we have been compliant,” he added.

The Philippines was granted beneficiary country status under the EU-GSP+ in December 2014, allowing the country to export 6,274 eligible products duty-free to the EU market.

The alleged cases of extrajudicial killings as part of President Duterte’s drug war, however, has put at risk the country’s GSP+ privileges.

The beneficiary status under the GSP+ necessitates the implementation of the 27 international treaties and conventions on human rights, labor rights, environment and governance.

Results of the latest review are expected to come out this year.

“So we will see how it turns out in the new GSP+ monitoring review. But for us it should be balanced. We have made a lot of gains and we have addressed a lot of issues in the previous report,” Rodolfo said.

The DTI said the GSP+ is a meaningful program assistance developed by EU to help a trade partner institute socio-economic reform resulting from greater trade and economic activities.

It said the program also increases income in rural communities, as well as in areas experiencing conflicts.

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