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Human rights part of trade conditions, EU reminds PH

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Slammed by President Rodrigo Duterte for supposedly meddling in domestic affairs, the European Union (EU) denied it is "imposing" human rights conventions on the country in exchange for trade incentives.

In an interview with select journalists, EU Ambassador to the Philippines Franz Jessen stressed that the Philippines had signed up for 27 conventions under the United Nations (UN) system. For this, the EU granted the Philippines its Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) trade incentive.

"It's not 27 conventions that we are imposing on you. It's 27 conventions that you already signed up for in the UN system. So it's not us imposing anything. We're simply saying that you did that, and we think you did right, and therefore we are very happy to work with GSP+ and the Philippines," Jessen said on Friday, March 31.

The GSP+ scheme provides duty-free entry for 6,200 products from the Philippines. 

The EU grants this trade incentive only to countries that have ratified "27 core international conventions on human and labor rights, environmental protection, and good governance."

The EU also monitors the "effective implementation" of these conventions under the UN system.

Jessen spoke to journalists on Friday after Duterte again lashed out at the EU for a resolution issued by its lawmakers.

On March 16, an EU Parliament resolution warned the Philippines of "the possible removal of GSP+ preferences" if the human rights situation in the country does not improve. 

This came as more than 7,000 people have died in the war on drugs waged by Duterte.

Reacting to this resolution, Duterte lashed out at the EU Parliament on March 19: "Do not impose your culture or your belief in what would be a government in this planet." 

EU 'a union of values'

In his interview with reporters on Friday, Jessen explained why GSP+ is tied to human rights.

Jessen said: "The European Union is a union of values. We were borne out of a peace process in Europe. We were based on shared values in order to have sustainable peace and development in Europe."

"And then when we look across the world, we are very happy to work together with countries like the Philippines to promote, in this case, 27 labor and human rights conventions, which the Philippines has signed up for in the UN context," he said.

The EU lists the following as GSP+ beneficiary countries:

Asked what these countries have in common, Jessen said that "they're all working to promote these 27 conventions, that they're trying to make steady progress."

In 2010, Sri Lanka's GSP+ status was suspended by the EU for "failure to address reported human rights violations in the country." The country's new government applied for GSP+ again in 2016, and the European Commission concluded early 2017 that it has "met the GSP+ entry criteria" again. The proposal to again include Sri Lanka under the GSP+ is being reviewed.

Jessen said an EU mission flew to the Philippines in February this year, and assessed the country's compliance with human rights and labor conventions. 

The follow-up mission aimed to check if the Philippines remains qualified for the GSP+ scheme.

The EU is expected to release a report on the mission. 

In response, Malacañang said that "non-trade" accusations – especially if "baseless and undeserved" – should not be linked with trade programs.

"We would rather that the European Parliament engage us as partners in nation-building, as the visionary EU business community seems to intend themselves," Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said Sunday, April 2. 

"We assure our friends and allies that the Philippines will respect its international commitments," Abella added. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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