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A more measured response

"Perhaps it wasn’t all too advisable to dare the EU to go ahead and make our day."

The response from the Palace to a call from the European Parliament to suspend the Philippines’ tax-free privileges in the European Union (EU) as a result of human rights concerns was predictably—and unnecessarily—prickly and pugnacious.

“If they want to add to the hardships of the Filipino people during a time of a pandemic, so be it. We will accept that as history repeating itself,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in Filipino.

“Let’s stop this discussion. They should do whatever they want. In times like this, if they want to implement it, go ahead! They will be the biggest contributor to the violation of the right to life in the Philippines,” he added.

In a resolution, European Union lawmakers had called on the European Commission, “in the absence of any substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities,” to take steps that could lead to the temporary withdrawal of GSP+ preferences for the country’s exporters.

The Palace response to all this was pique at what it views as foreign interference in domestic affairs. But given the stakes involved and the EU’s own internal requirements for the grant of GSP+ privileges, perhaps it wasn’t all too advisable to dare the EU to go ahead and make our day.

Under the EU GSP+ privileges, more than 6,000 types of Philippine goods enter the EU market at zero tariff.

Suspending these privileges would deal a substantial blow to Philippine exports to the EU.

In the EU GSP+ report for 2018-2019 published early this year, the country’s utilization rate of the preferential trade arrangement was at 73.1 percent in 2018.

The EU Delegation to the Philippines also estimated that around EUR 2 billion (P113 billion) or 25 percent of the country’s total exports to EU enter the trade bloc under GSP+.

Already, the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines has warned of massive social and economic repercussions if the country’s GSP+ status is withdrawn.

ECCP president Nabil Francis said considering the EU is among the largest trading partners of the Philippines, removing its GSP+ status would jeopardize jobs in both the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.

He said Philippine exports to EU increased by 27 percent a year after the country qualified for GSP+, and revoking the benefits of GSP+ amid the COVID-19 pandemic “will also exacerbate the economic situation” here.

The Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. (PhilExport), the umbrella organization of Filipino exporters, said the move could affect up to 20 percent of the country’s exports to EU and could cost tens of thousands of workers their jobs.

In the face of these dire outcomes, Vice President Leni Robredo said it would have been better for the Palace to show that the country is abiding by its human rights commitments after all. This is all assuming, of course, that this is really the case.

Topics: Editorial , European Parliament , tax-free privileges , European Union , EU , human rights , EU GSP+
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