Philippines sees no reason for EU to revoke trade perks
Ian Nicolas Cigaral ( - September 18, 2020 - 5:22pm

MANILA, Philippines — There is no reason for the European Union (EU) to revoke trade perks offered to Philippine exporters over political and human rights issues, government and industry officials said Friday. 

“The EU Commission has a mechanism in place and process to follow to verify issues before sanctions are imposed.  So far, we are able to explain objectively the Philippines side on issues that are raised,” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said in a statement.

“We don’t see any reason why our GSP+ privilege will be withdrawn,” he added.

EU lawmakers overnight voted to pass a resolution recommending the Philippines be removed from the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+), a system under which countries can export their products at 0% tariff to the economic bloc.

Under the arrangement, 6,274 local products were deemed qualified to enter EU tariff-free, a benefit legislators there said the Philippines no longer deserves due to the Duterte administration’s lethal drugs war, and curtailment of freedoms, including the shutdown of free channels of ABS-CBN Corp.

Just before Lopez issued a statement however, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the EU can proceed with what it thinks is best.  “In this time of a pandemic-led recession, EU’s plan to suspend our GSP privilege will have a negative impact on us,” he told reporters.

“But if they want to do that, we can't do anything. Let them see the suffering it will cause Filipinos,” Roque said.

Since the Duterte administration took office in 2016, EU has consistently raised concern over the deaths from government’s drugs war, and other human rights abuses thrown against the program. In 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte himself called the 28-member bloc “stupid” for criticizing his anti-crime stance.

Even before that in 2017, Duterte has repeatedly said he would reject any donations coming from the EU, a threat that was fulfilled, at one point in January 2018 when economic officials rejected P380-million in aid from the bloc.

As it is, respect to human rights has been a key component of EU assistance, including GSP+, a matter not understood even by the industry. “What we don’t understand is why they have to cancel it based on perception or possibly because of advocacy of certain sectors,” said Sergio Ortiz-Luis, president of Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc., an industry group.

“They could’ve asked, I’m sure if they will listen to their representatives here, I’m sure they will say that is far from the truth,” he said in a phone interview. “Unfortunately, they politicized the issue.”

With the GSP+ privileges still intact for now, Lopez said the government is “working closely and fully cooperating” with EU officials to keep the Philippines under the system. 

Separately, the government is likewise considering entering into a free trade agreement with the bloc, something which has also been derailed because of concerns over the government’s human rights record. It remains unclear how the latest development will affect trade talks.

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