ISLAMABAD - An EU human rights delegation Tuesday warned Pakistan that resuming executions would be seen as a “major setback” as the European parliament considers the country’s application for preferential trade status.

The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif scrapped a five-year moratorium on the death penalty in June in a bid to crack down on criminals and Islamist militants in the violence-torn country.

Hangings were due to resume last week until a temporary stay was ordered following objections from the president and rights groups.

European officials are visiting to assess the human rights situation as the bloc considers whether to grant Pakistan access to the so-called GSP-plus scheme of preferential trade tariffs.

The matter is expected to come before the European parliament in the coming weeks and delegation chief Ana Gomes, a Portuguese MEP, told reporters in Islamabad progress on human rights was crucial.

“We value as extremely positive the fact that Pakistan adopted the moratorium on the death penalty,” she said after talks with government officials, political parties and campaign groups. “We hope that Pakistan will keep it. It would be viewed as a major setback if Pakistan were to lift the moratorium on the death penalty.”

Countries wanting to gain GSP-plus status are required to ratify and implement a series of international conventions relating to labour rights and governance.

EU ambassador to Pakistan Lars-Gunnar Wigemark said that while the terms did not specifically include the death penalty, it contributed to the picture.

“It would send an overall negative signal since the EU position on the abolition of the death penalty is very clear,” he said.

“We don’t believe that it will deter any violent crime. There’s no evidence it deters any violent crime, including terrorism.”

Pakistan is keen to reinvigorate its ailing economy by boosting business with the EU — already its biggest commercial partner with overall trade reaching 8.1 billion euros ($11 billion) in 2011.

A final decision on the GSP-plus application is expected by the end of the year.

Amnesty International estimates Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row.

EU team briefed on rights

Our Staff Reporter adds: The delegation of European Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights led by Ana Gomes called on PM’s Adviser Sartaj Aziz on Tuesday. Andrzej Grzyb, Member of the European Parliament, accompanied her.

During the meeting, Sartaj Aziz highlighted the efforts of the new democratic government to improve the living standards of the people and protect their fundamental rights.

He also said that special emphasis has been made by the government to protect the rights of women, minorities and children. The Adviser stressed that despite challenges, the resolve of the government to protect the human rights is unwavering.

The delegation also called on the National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, who said that the Parliament was fully seized of the human rights situation in the country. The Speaker expressed the hope that the first-ever democratic transition from one civilian government to another would strengthen the democratic processes in the country.

In a meeting with the EU Parliamentarians, the Foreign Secretary apprised the delegation on the efforts made by the government in the field of human rights in particular to strengthen human rights infrastructure in the country.

Ana Gomes acknowledged the important steps taken by the government for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. The delegation also exchanged views on human rights situation in the country.

The EU delegation also held meetings with Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and National Harmony, Secretary Law Justice and Human Rights, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women, and members of the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights and Women Parliamentary Caucus.

The delegation will conclude its visit tomorrow. During the visit, the delegation is interacting with government functionaries and representatives of political parties and civil society organizations on the subject of human rights.

The Subcommittee on Human Rights works under the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament.