Noting that the human rights violations remain widespread in Pakistan, the European Commission’s first assessment report on the impact of Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) Plus calls upon Pakistan to show concrete improvements on implementing the 27 international conventions relating to human rights, labour rights, the death penalty, environment and good governance. With the establishment of military courts and the death penalty, and issues of forced labour and child abuse being rampant, it is a wonder that we have once again been granted this status.

By availing the GSP-Plus, Pakistan is allowed duty-free access to European markets. Since January 2014, 20 percent of Pakistani exports enter EU markets at zero tariff and 70 percent at preferential rates. As a result, Pakistan’s exports to the EU increased by almost 20 percent in the first year. This is enough of an economic incentive to do better on the human rights record.

The EU ambassador to Pakistan has made it clear that the suspension of this status cannot be ruled out. Its continuation is dependent on Pakistan’s compliance with several international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention Against Torture, and Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Repeated visits by the Commerce Minister Khurram Dastagir and the recently appointed Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Human Rights Ashtar Ausaf to the EU clearly demonstrate that the government is aware of the potential threat to economic prosperity by its dismal human rights. However, we seem to be banking on the fact that our country is going through ‘extraordinary circumstances’ in the wake of ongoing war against terror.

The Finance Minister keeps tacking on taxes to make sure Pakistan meets IMF’s lending criteria, why can the same not be done for humans rights, to make sure we meet GSP Plus criteria? Only because the state finds it easy to burden people and harder to make their life easier?

The GSP is not a loan, in fact, it will help us export more goods and create trade links helping free us from aid dependencies. The GSP Plus status something the country needs to hang on to. We need whatever we can get to get our goods to international markets. Just to start with there should be strict implementation of labour laws, quality checks at factories, a transparent criminal justice system and revisiting of some of our controversial laws –naming only a few. Pakistan got an overwhelming majority of EU votes when the GSP Plus status was granted initially. The country might now see a fall in the number of votes and it would require exceptional negotiation and diplomatic skills to keep enjoying the GSP Plus status.