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World

GSP Plus status: Government decides to address EU concerns over minorities, freedom of expression

  • Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired a meeting of his senior cabinet members and close aides on Monday, to discuss the resolution passed by the European Parliament, which called for a review of their trade relations with Pakistan.
  • The European Parliament's resolution is linked with Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, and could potentially end Pakistan's eligibility for the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) trading status.
Updated 03 May 2021

Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired a meeting of his senior cabinet members and close aides on Monday to discuss the resolution passed by the European Parliament, which called for a review of their trade relations with Pakistan.

The meeting was attended by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Commerce Advisor Abdul Razak Dawood, Minister for Religious Affairs Noor ul Haq Qadri, Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed, among others.

The cabinet deliberated upon the concerns raised by the European parliament and decided to address them.

The meeting decided to introduce laws on enforced disappearances, protection of journalists, and freedom of expression in the Parliament. The cabinet also decided to take concrete measures to ensure the protection of the minorities' rights in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, however, said that the agreement on Pakistan’s GSP Plus status had nothing to do with blasphemy laws that ensure the sanctity of Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He told the attendees that no compromise will be made on blasphemy laws.

The resolution, adopted on April 30, could potentially end Pakistan's eligibility for the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) trading status.

The European Parliament's resolution is linked with Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, specifically, the case of Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Emmanuel, who remain on death row since 2014, for allegedly sending ‘blasphemous’ text messages - a charge they have consistently denied.

The resolution was near-unanimously passed, with 662 votes in favor, three votes against, and 26 choosing to abstain, calling upon the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) to “immediately review Pakistan’s eligibility for GSP+ status in light of current events”.

It added that there is “sufficient reason” to initiate a procedure for the temporary withdrawal of this status and its subsequent benefits.

This resolution came about after numerous demonstrations were held across Pakistan in April by the religious political party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which quickly turned violent after the party's chief was arrested for threatening the government with rallies - if it failed to expel the French envoy over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) published in France last year.

As the protests continued, ministers negotiated with the party and eventually accepted its demand to release, hundreds of TLP supporters arrested during the riots, and also called a parliamentary vote on expelling the French ambassador, fulfilling the religious group’s key demand.

A statement from the Pakistani Foreign Office articulated that "The discourse in the European Parliament reflects a lack of understanding in the context of blasphemy laws and associated religious sensitivities in Pakistan – and the wider Muslim world", adding that “the unwarranted commentary about Pakistan’s judicial system and domestic laws are regrettable".

The statement said that “Pakistan has played an active role in promoting freedom of religion or belief, tolerance, and inter-faith harmony - at a time of rising Islamophobia and populism, the international community must exhibit a common resolve to fight xenophobia, intolerance and incitement to violence based on religion or belief and work together to strengthen peaceful co-existence".