The Council and the European Parliament are currently negotiating a revision of the General System of Preferences (GSP) which removes import duties from products coming into the EU market from developing countries. The GSP system aims to support sustainable development, poverty reduction and compliance with human rights and is linked to incentives and disincentives regarding human rights, including labour rights, and environmental protection standards.

As part of the revision of the GSP, the European Commission has proposed making the conclusion and enforcement of readmission agreements a condition for tariff reductions of products from all third countries who potentially could benefit from the GSP including vulnerable lower income countries as well as least developing countries. This proposal been adopted by Member States in its negotiation position and has been rejected by the European Parliament. This difference of position has become the main point of contention during the negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament.

This week, a joint letter signed by over 20 civil society organisations working on trade, human rights and migration argued that the proposed revision is counterproductive, in that it “would prevent countries from benefiting from GSP arrangements that can effectively promote protection for human rights and alleviate poverty, repression and poor governance, conditions that can lead people to feel they have no choice but to leave their homes, and which are root causes of forced migration. While addressing those root causes is a priority of the EU, the proposed changes would jeopardize an effective policy tool to address them via trade preferences that support sustainable development in third countries”. The letter also argues that it would make the GSP scheme overall less effective and risk the partnership with third countries.

In addition, a legal opinion by Geraldo Vidigal, a former World Trade Organisation (WTO) lawyer and an international trade law lecturer at the University of Amsterdam commissioned by FIDH and CSW, finds that the requirement to readmit migrants is incompatible with the EU’s obligations under the Enabling Clause, the main WTO Decision that governs preferential treatment to developing countries. Having analysed the European Commission’s proposal in light of the legal conclusions developed by WTO panels and the Appellate Body, endorsed by all WTO Members gathered in the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, the author argues that “this element of proposed Article 19 should be withdrawn if the EU is to comply with its international commitments and avoid further straining the multilateral trading system.”

Third countries would potentially be affected by this change have also voiced their concerns.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.