ISLAMABAD: The European Union (EU) has said that political turmoil, constitutional challenges, economic crisis, high inflation and serious shortage of foreign reserves are continuously affecting Pakistan.
According to fourth joint GSP Review Report of European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS), the progress of eight GSP+ beneficiary countries, including Pakistan, were shared in the effective implementation of the 27 international core conventions underlying the GSP+ scheme, which is required for beneficiary countries in order to continue benefiting from GSP+ status. The 27 conventions cover the four areas of human rights, labour rights, environmental standards and good governance for the period 2020 to 2022.
The report further highlights areas where more progress is needed. So far, four biennial reviews have been concluded under the current GSP scheme.
According to the report, after a no-confidence vote ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had taken office during the previous monitoring period, a broad coalition government under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif formed the federal government in April 2022. Since then, the political scene in Pakistan has seen increasing polarisation and controversy in relation to former Prime Minister Imran Khan. The political stand-off culminated in May 2023 with the detention of Imran Khan and members of his party, as well as, street protests with violence against security forces and their installations. In the aftermath, many protesters were arrested and taken for trial including at military and anti-terrorism courts. Internet and social media were temporarily shut down. In early August 2023, former Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested again and convicted, disqualifying him from contesting the next general elections. In August 2023, the National Assembly was dissolved a few days before the end of its term. Since then, a caretaker government is in place with a limited mandate until general elections.
The political turmoil and constitutional challenges in 2022 and 2023 caused disruption and absorbed considerable energy of all political actors. At the same time, an economic crisis, high inflation and serious shortage of foreign reserves continue to affect the country. The unprecedented floods in 2022 affected tens of millions of Pakistanis and will require substantial efforts over the medium to long-term for reconstruction and rehabilitation while impacting existing structural discrimination and socioeconomic disparities. In July 2023, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a US$3 billion Stand-By Arrangement for Pakistan.
The report further says that corruption (political and economic) continues to be perceived as pervasive, and questions are raised on the independence of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Anticorruption rhetoric and legal cases are heavily politicised.
Pakistani authorities have made significant efforts in combating the trafficking of narcotics, but given Pakistan’s location as a transit country, as well as, its domestic consumption, it continues to remain a point of concern. Although efforts are being made to move from harsh punishment to health-based approaches to tackle drug use, these can be enhanced.
Since Pakistan’s inclusion in the GSP+ in 2014, progress has been recorded in the legal framework related to human rights and its implementation. However, there are also some developments putting into question the progress achieved, thus causing concerns. Challenges remain with respect to Pakistan’s capacity to uphold and protect the human rights of its citizens. In the current review period, Pakistan has adopted important laws, such as those against torture to protect journalists and media professionals, and to protect the rights of women in the workplace. First steps have been taken to reduce the scope of the death penalty, while the adoption of a revised mercy petition procedure remains crucial. Additional legislation, notably on further reducing the scope of the death penalty, on enforced disappearances, and on domestic violence at federal level are needed to align Pakistan’s framework with its international commitments.
Important shortcomings persist in protecting the freedom of religion and belief, and the rights of minorities, in particular in view of the blasphemy laws and their abuse, as well as, hate speech and violence against minorities. Freedom of expression, of the press and of association, as well as, the rights of women and girls continues to be of concern. Since its independence from colonial rule in 1947, Pakistan’s political power alternated between civilian governments and military dictatorships. Despite continuous civilian rule since 2008, the military has played an outsize role in politics and the economy. Since 2014, Pakistan has been governed on the federal level by three different coalitions with one transition through general elections and one in 2022 through a no-confidence vote.
The report acknowledges Pakistan’s progress on the legislative front while emphasising the need to improve practical application in both letter and spirit.
Pakistan was awarded GSP+ status on 1st January 2014 after the country had ratified 27 international conventions and committed to implement them. The EU GSP+ serves as a special incentive arrangement to promote good governance and sustainable development by facilitating trade. The incentive grants Pakistan zero-rated or preferential tariffs on nearly 66% of tariff lines, enhancing the country’s ability to export to the EU market.
GSP+ has proven to be pivotal for EU-Pakistan bilateral trade ties. From 2014 to 2022, Pakistan’s exports to the EU increased by 108% whereas imports from the EU increased by 65% and the total trade volume increased from EUR 8.3 billion in 2013 to EUR 14.85 billion. Pakistan’s garments, bed linen, terry towels, hosiery, leather, sports and surgical goods and similar products enter the EU market availing the GSP+ concessions.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023