[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date 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
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
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.