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EU urges Philippines to address issues as GSP+ scheme ends in 2023

Louella Desiderio - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The European Union is urging the Philippines to address human rights issues and other concerns, following a monitoring mission to check the country’s implementation of international conventions that form part of the conditions for enjoying zero duty entry for its exports to the bloc.

The EU conveyed a message of urgency to the Philippine government after the country’s progress in implementing international conventions on human and labor rights, environment and climate as well as good governance was assessed by a monitoring mission by the bloc’s team of officials from Feb.28 to March 4.

The Philippines is a beneficiary of the EU Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) program that allows duty-free entry for 6,274 products to the EU. It is set to expire by the end of 2023.

EU Ambassador to the Philippines Luc Véron said in a statement the effective implementation of international commitments on trade and sustainable development forms the basis of the Philippine’s privileged access to the EU market.

“We have been working together with the Filipino government since the country joined the scheme in 2014. While my colleagues from Brussels recognize the level of engagement and the climate of frank discussions with the Filipino government, they also reiterated the need for tangible and measurable progress over time on issues of concern,” Véron said.

During the official monitoring mission, meetings were held between the EU officials and  representatives of the Philippine government and civil society on issues relating to human rights, the rule of law, labor relations, good governance and environmental protection.

The discussions covered actions taken by the Philippine government on the war on drugs, accountability for extrajudicial killings, restrictions of civil society space including red tagging of human rights defenders, freedom of expression, opinion and media, anti-torture legislation, anti-terrorism laws, freedom of association, child labor, drugs policy, environment and climate change, as well as corruption.

Meetings were participated by representatives from the Departments of Trade, Justice, Labor and Employment, Environment and Natural Resources, the Presidential Human Rights Committee, the Philippine National Police, the Dangerous Drugs Board, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and other relevant government services and agencies.

Officials also met with representatives of civil society including human right defenders, trade unions and employers, and had exchanges with EU Member States’ Ambassadors and United Nations’ agencies.

“The information gathered by the EU’s monitoring mission this week will feed into the next report that the Commission will present to the Parliament and the Council in the second part of 2022 on the general implementation of the scheme, which will also include an assessment of progress regarding compliance with the 27 conventions by each GSP+ beneficiary,” the EU said.

Last September, the EU Commission proposed to extend the GSP+, but with some modifications, until 2034.

The proposal is currently being examined by the European Parliament and the European Council.

Beneficiary countries will need to reapply to the new GSP+ to continue enjoying trade benefits with the EU.

Last month,  the European Parliament approved a resolution reiterating its call to the Philippine government to immediately end all violence and human rights violations in relation to supected drug offenders, as well as to stop red-tagging human rights and environmental defenders, journalists, trade union activists, and church and humanitarian workers.

The same resolution also urged the EU Commission to set benchmarks for the Philippines to comply with human rights obligations under the GSP+ and to

immediately begin the process that may lead to the suspension of the country’s trade privileges if no substantial improvements are made.

Despite the European Parliament’s resolution, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said earlier, he is confident the country would be keeping its GSP+ benefits.

Lopez said the country is compliant with the 27 international conventions on human rights, labor, environment and good governance, and the government has always responded to the allegations, as well as facilitated EU regular monitoring missions which the trade chief has referred to as a more systematic and organized process in obtaining accurate information on the country’s real situation.

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