ISLAMABAD: In its review of Pakistan’s preferential trade status, the European Union has highlighted the issues of enforced disappearance and shrinking media freedom.

The biennial review of Pakistan’s GSP+ status indicated that progress on issues like space for civil society, freedom of speech, and media remained largely the same as in 2020.

The ‘Fourth GSP Report’ highlighted the ongoing issue of impunity in cases of enforced disappearances. However, it acknowledged “continuous progress” on the rights of women and children, protection of transgenders, environmental conservation and good governance.

The joint report by the European Commission and the European External Action Service was released on Tuesday.

The review is crucial as it tracks progress on 27 key international rules by the countries benefiting from GSP scheme.

The 27 conventions cover human rights, labour rights, environmental standards and good governance.

The previous report, released in Feb­ruary 2020, raised almost identical concerns on freedom of expression and speech.

The 2023 report, covering the years 2020-22, acknowledged Pakistan’s progress on the legislative front.

According to the report, a disturbing trend has emerged during the monitoring period, with numerous journalists falling victim to violent attacks and unexplained disappearances.

Online trolls have been particularly active, launching targeted campaigns against critical individuals.

As a result, many journalists have resorted to self-censorship as a means of survival, the report noted.

The clampdown was not limited to the media alone, the review said, adding that political activists, human rights defenders and elected representatives “are finding their freedom of expression curtailed through various administrative, legal and other measures”.

Pakistan should facilitate a local branch of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the report recommended.

In October, Pak­istan’s GSP+ was extended for another four years until 2027. Under the incentive, Pakistan can enjoy duty-free or minimum duty on exports to the European market.

Pakistan has benefited from the preferential trade since 2014, when GSP+ was awarded. Exports to the EU increased by 108pc whereas imports went up by 65pc. The total trade volume increased from 8.3 billion euros in 2013 to 14.85bn euros.

EU Ambassador to Pakistan Dr Riina Kionka noted that Pakistan can realise the full potential of GSP+ status only by diversifying exports and including value-added products.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2023

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