The EU should reinstate Myanmar's duty and quota free access to the EU market, said the EP's international trade committee on Thursday, in support of the Commission's proposal to support Myanmar in its reforms, in particular its efforts to eradicate forced labour.
The reinstatement of trade preferences, backed by the trade committee by 28 votes to 2, with no abstentions, but yet to be adopted by the full House and approved by member states, will give Myanmar duty and quota free access to the EU market for all its exports except arms and ammunition. This could help raise Myanmar's exports by 30%, estimates the European Commission.
Myanmar is eligible for free market access under the EU's Generalized System for Preferences (GSP) for least-developed countries but since 1997 the EU has been withholding these benefits because of reports of the "routine and widespread practice of forced labour". The proposal to reinstate preferences follows reports that the use of forced labour in Myanmar has ceased to be "serious and systematic".
Remaining forced labour is responsibility of EU firms
While trade MEPs share the Commission's view that the legal requirements are met for the GSP preferences to be reinstated, the rapporteur, David Martin (S&D, UK), highlights the fact that forced labour is still a concern in some states, particularly in the military sector.
"Progress in Burma remains fragile and it is important that the proposed measures will contribute to a sustainable peace and a positive development," he stressed ahead of the vote. To emphasise these concerns, trade MEPs are drafting a separate resolution asking the Commission to monitor developments with respect to forced labour and to stress the responsibility of European businesses operating in the country.
"It is vital that European businesses apply strict corporate social responsibility measures to their operations in Burma and that there is a high level of transparency and reporting, in order to encourage best practice amongst investors moving into Burma," Mr Martin stressed.
The full House will vote on the reinstatement of trade preferences for Myanmar in May (tbc). Formal approval by the Council will then be required. After that the regulation will enter into force retroactively, as from July 2012 when the ILO lifted restrictions on cooperation with Myanmar/Burma.