Written by Ionel Zamfir,
Protection of human rights is one of the EU’s overarching objectives in its external action, in line with the Treaty on European Union. One of the EU’s main tools to promote human rights in third countries is the generalised system of preferences (GSP), granting certain developing countries preferential trade access to the EU market. Covering 90 third countries, the scheme includes explicit human rights conditionality, providing that preferences can be withdrawn in case of massive and systematic violations of core human rights or labour rights norms.
A special incentive arrangement grants further tariff concessions to countries that ratify and implement a series of international conventions. Based on systematic monitoring by the European Commission, this is the most comprehensive and detailed human rights mechanism established in the framework of EU common commercial policy. In practice, the EU has privileged a strategy of incentivising gradual progress through dialogue and monitoring, rather than withdrawing preferences.
Suspension of preferences under GSP is rarely applied and, when it is, it does not have an immediate and clear impact.
The EU’s unilateral trade measures to protect human rights are not limited to the GSP. The EU has taken steps to prohibit or limit trade in items that could cause human rights violations, such as torture and execution items, or dual use goods. New legislation is being considered on conflict minerals, and the European Parliament has asked for a proposal for legislation to ban the import of goods produced using child labour.
Read the complete briefing on ‘Human rights in EU trade policy: Unilateral measures‘.