The European Parliament’s adoption of a resolution calling for a review of the GSP+ status granted to Pakistan in view of an “alarming” increase in the use of blasphemy accusations is a major setback, which should trouble the government. Pakistan’s economy is a major beneficiary of the trading opportunities offered by the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) Status.
The scheme includes generous tariff preferences, with the most significant benefit being zero duties on two-thirds of all product categories. The loss of GSP+ status can have a devastating impact on Pakistan’s trade. The unpleasant truth is that Pakistan’s economy is more dependent on the EU, than the other way around. The EU is Pakistan’s most important trading partner, accounting for 12.8 percent of Pakistan’s total trade in 2015 and absorbing 23.7 percent of Pakistan’s total exports.
The resolution was passed just weeks after the government and the TLP brokered an agreement to end a weeklong protest by the banned group that had paralysed cities — a protest that had made international headlines as the religio-political organisation led a massive anti-France protest.
Though the European resolution notes anti-French sentiment in the country, its major call is to review the preferential trade status granted to Pakistan since 2014 because of the country’s blasphemy laws and their alleged misuse. In fact, such misuse is very much a reality; far too many people have been falsely accused and incarcerated for years pending a trial and, in some ghastly cases, have been victims of vigilante violence. But while these issues very much stand, limiting trade with Pakistan will not resolve them.
In fact, removing Pakistan for whom the European bloc is its most important trade partner from the list of GSP-Plus countries would hurt our economy and in turn the people. The prime minister raised this very point when he attempted to persuade the TLP to end their protest and said that ending diplomatic relations with Europe would badly hurt Pakistan’s exports. Though the EU is right in saying that it is in Pakistan’s own interest to review laws, protect minorities and promote tolerance, its parliament’s message to penalise the country hardly addresses the problem.
The concern for false allegations of blasphemy and the singular focus on Pakistan’s human rights issues hardly appear to be in good faith. However, the fact that the resolution passed overwhelmingly in the European Parliament reflects a failure in Pakistan’s diplomatic outreach. It indicates a lack of communication and lobbying on part of Pakistan in Europe. While embarrassing, the situation is not as bad as it seems. The EU is mandated to review Pakistan’s human rights progress every two years under GSP+ anyway. Now is the time for the government to reach out and build better communication pathways and influence in Europe to persuade them of our viewpoint.
At the same time, Pakistan’s Human Rights Ministry would also do well by looking into the human rights issues raised by the EU Parliament—while bad faith, their concern about false blasphemy allegations and the recent incidents of victimisation of minorities are not untrue. More so for justice, those cases should be investigated and review over the misuse of sensitive laws must be conducted.