[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

EU withdraws Burma's preferential t

Subject: EU withdraws Burma's preferential trade status 

	 BRUSSELS, Dec 18 (Reuter) - The European Commission said on  
Wednesday it had approved a decision to cut Burma's low tariff 
access to the European Union market because of allegations 
against Rangoon over forced labour. 
	 ``The European Commission has adopted (a legal instrument)  
withdrawing the benefits of the Community's Generalised System 
of Preferences (GSP) for the Union of Myanmar's industrial 
sector,'' the Commission said in a statement. 
	 ``The Commission proposes that this measure remain in force  
until such time as forced labour practices are abolished.'' 
	 The issue will now go to EU finance ministers for their  
approval, probably in January, an EU official said. 
	 The Commission decision followed just days after the world's  
trade ministers, meeting in Singapore, agonised over whether 
trade should be linked to workers' rights at all. 
	 The EU grants selected developing countries low-tariff  
access to its 370 million consumers through the GSP to help push 
along economic growth. 
	 But GSP benefits can be suspended if those that benefit from  
them are shown to coerce prisoners, children or unpaid labourers 
into working. 
	 A Commission investigation found against Burma after human  
rights monitors and trade unionists lodged a complaint 
presenting what they said was overwhelming evidence of slave 
labour in Burma. 
	 Rangoon refused to allow Commission investigators to visit  
the country, saying that since there was no forced labour in 
Burma there would be nothing to investigate. 
	 Commission officials have been extremely cautious in  
reaching their conclusions because it is the first time the bloc 
has linked workers' rights to trade. 
	 ``When you are setting a precedent, you have to tiptoe,'' said  
one investigating official. 
	 Asian nations whose voices were heard loud and clear at the  
World Trade Organisation meeting last week worry that any ruling 
that links trade and labour standards will set off an avalanche 
of complaints. 
	 Europeans will, they fear, allege abuses of workers' rights  
in developing countries because they want to protect themselves 
from competitors with lower labour costs. 
	 In Europe, such fears are dismissed. ``Even if we lodge  
complaints, it does not mean they will be acted upon,'' said 
Janek Kuczkiewicz of the International Conference of Free Trade 
	 He pointed to a complaint his organisation has lodged  
against child labour in Pakistan, which the Commission has put 
on ice without opening an inquiry. 
	 While Commission officials insist that only the question of  
workers' rights is involved, the case is inextricably linked in 
the public mind to moves against Rangoon's military government. 
	 The EU has already sanctioned Burma for its human rights  
record, mainly in the form of banning high-level contacts.