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Implementation Of International Conventions – Not Clear Whether Pakistan Will Get Duty-Free Access To Europe Beyond 2020: DW

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The EU’s Pakistan strategy generally follows parallel tracks of reward and punishment, DW said in a report. “Good behaviour from Islamabad is rewarded with tariff preferences like zero duties on two-thirds of all goods under the so-called the Generalized System of Preferences, or GSP+.”

But it added that these economic benefits come with an obligation to uphold the EU’s democratic values. Pakistan pledged to ratify and effectively implement 27 core international conventions on human and labour rights, environmental protection and good governance. 

Although Pakistan says it has progressed on implementing national and provincial legislation, the EU has criticised progress as being painfully slow, the report noted.

The EU’s ambassador to Pakistan, Jean Francois Cautain, has regularly warned that “Pakistan was failing to take full advantage of the GSP+ scheme”.

And considering the wide gaps between Pakistan’s promises and actual implementation of the international conventions, it is currently unclear whether the country will continue to get duty-free access to Europe beyond 2020.

On the other hand, Western diplomats in Islamabad appear increasingly concerned at the PTI government’s capacity to keep its commitments. And the government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan has been criticised for failing to live up to its promises of a “new Pakistan”.

According to DW, Imran has been unable “to convince ordinary Pakistanis that his government has a viable economic plan to take millions out of poverty. Rising food prices, interest rates and currency devaluation are having a cumulative negative effect on the economy”

The government blames the corruption of previous governments for the country’s ills. Consequently, several leading opposition figures have been arrested, including former President Asif Ali Zardari. Imran calls it accountability, but his opponents say it’s a political witch hunt.

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On the other hand, private media are accusing the government of muzzling the press. Leading human rights activists and journalists say they have never experienced such pervasive silencing of dissent under a civilian government as is becoming a norm under Imran.

The DW report mentioned this as it discussed the future of Pakistan-EU relations.

“In June, Pakistan and the EU signed the EU-Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan, which creates a forum for regular military-to-military talks on security issues, while promoting democracy, the rule of law and human rights.”

“The EU describes the plan as ‘a forward-looking and ambitious political framework’, involving cooperation on ‘new and untapped areas such as energy and climate change, education, culture, science and technology’.

On the other hand, Pakistan sees the agreement as a sign that the EU recognises Islamabad’s efforts in promoting the values of democracy, freedom of expression and human rights.

According to DW, both sides are keen to deepen their ties, but there are serious differences remain. “These include deficiencies in Pakistan’s attempts to curb terror financing and money laundering, along with its commitment to democratic institutions.”

But the EU – amid unstable geopolitical situation in the region – is seeking to balance its governance values with strategic imperatives, which include stopping terrorism, and a stronger role in Afghan talks.

“Pakistan is seen as an important geopolitical player,” said Shada Islam, director of Europe and geopolitics at Friends of Europe, a Brussels think tank.

And there is the issue of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) too, which put Pakistan on its watch list, meaning that the country has “structural deficiencies” in stopping money laundering and terror financing.

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The EU reacted with concern, but stopped short of cutting off Pakistan’s preferential trade status. The move was supported by the US, France, Britain and Germany. Pakistan barely escaped being blacklisted, thanks to the support of China, Turkey and Malaysia.

“Pakistan fears that an FATF blacklisting would deal a blow to its already faltering economy, making it harder for global investors and multinationals to do business in the country,” the DW said.

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