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Procedure : 2010/0323(NLE)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0427/2011

Texts tabled :

A7-0427/2011

Debates :

PV 14/12/2011 - 18
CRE 14/12/2011 - 18

Votes :

PV 15/12/2011 - 9.8
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :


Debates
Wednesday, 14 December 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

18. EC-Uzbekistan partnership and cooperation agreement and bilateral trade in textiles (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the report by George Sabin Cutaş, on behalf of the Committee on International Trade, on the interim report on the draft Council decision on the conclusion of a Protocol to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement establishing a partnership between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and the Republic of Uzbekistan, of the other part, amending the agreement in order to extend the provisions of the agreement to bilateral trade in textiles, taking account of the expiry of the bilateral textiles agreement (16384/1/2010 – C7-0097/2011 – 2010/0323(NLE)) (A7-0427/2011).

 
  
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  George Sabin Cutaş, rapporteur.(RO) Mr President, the European Parliament has been asked to give its consent to a Protocol amending the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and Uzbekistan so that the textile trade can benefit from an appropriate legal framework.

This is missing at the moment as textiles were a sensitive issue in the negotiations during the 1990s for the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements with the countries of the former Soviet Union. The protocol being discussed wishes to include textiles in this agreement so that legal certainty is guaranteed for European Union exporters.

However, over and above this general context, there is still a serious problem which the European Parliament cannot fail to address: accusations that forced child labour is used in the cotton fields in Uzbekistan. This is the main reason why, following the debates in the Commission, we decided to draft this interim report.

Uzbekistan is the world’s fifth largest producer of cotton and its third biggest cotton exporter. According to several reports from the Initiative Group of Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan, produced in partnership with the International Forum for Civil Rights, as well as from the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights and the NGO Anti-Slavery International, the political and economic systems in Uzbekistan are controlled by the state. Cotton is produced on private farms, but the harvested cotton must be handed over to state-owned firms for a price dictated by the State.

According to the same reports, government employees mobilise children as a cheap source of labour during the cotton harvest. The estimates range from 200 000 to 2 million children aged 9-15 years old. The State dictates the quotas for cotton, which must be fulfilled. Schools are obliged to send children out into the cotton fields. Administrative employees and teachers who refuse to comply risk losing their jobs. The families of children who refuse to work are pressurised by the police and the prosecution service. The authorities threaten to withhold pensions and social benefits, to cut off electricity, gas and water supplies and even to arrest, imprison and charge members of non-compliant families. Many schools, particularly those in agricultural regions, are closed from September until November or December. As a consequence, the children involved miss two to three months of school every year.

The Uzbek Government denies that these problems exist and states that this is a family farm activity. Continued allegations of forced child labour obliged the Uzbek Government to ratify in 2008 the two ILO conventions on child labour, after which it approved the National Action Plan to implement them.

Over the years, many international organisations such as the UN or ILO have expressed concerns regarding the use of forced child labour in Uzbekistan. However, the Uzbek Government does not allow independent international observers in the country during the harvest season to verify the implementation of the ILO conventions.

As rapporteur, I tried to meet all the parties involved in this agreement. I regret that it was not possible to have an exchange of views in the Committee on International Trade with Uzbekistan’s ambassador to the EU, even though he has been repeatedly invited. I think that he could have portrayed to us the situation in his country. Unfortunately, even the bilateral meeting we managed to have with the ambassador was not enlightening.

On the other hand, I would like to thank my colleagues because they showed that they were receptive to the concerns expressed by the European Parliament, and I thank them for their valuable contribution to the final version.

I think that we have managed to achieve a balanced report, through which we call on the Council to support the request submitted by the ILO to Uzbekistan to accept a high-level tripartite observer mission, enjoying full freedom of movement, in order to assess the implementation of the ILO conventions.

Finally, I would like to mention the petition launched by the Anti-Slavery organisation, requesting trade preferences to be halted. Last week, I had the opportunity to meet some students from Eastbourne who came to the European Parliament along with members from Anti-Slavery to ask the European Union to protect children’s rights. I must tell you, Mr President, that once this debate is over, I will be handing in a petition making this request containing 13 379 signatures.

 
  
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  Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the Commission. – Mr President, I would like to thank the Committee on International Trade and its rapporteur, Mr Cutaş, for this interim report.

First, the object of this consent procedure is an amendment to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Uzbekistan concerning trade in textiles. Its only objective is to ensure that textile exports from the EU to Uzbekistan would get most-favoured-nation treatment. So let us keep clearly in mind that we are talking about an agreement that gives legal certainty to the EU and does not grant any benefits to Uzbekistan itself.

The Commission is well aware of the problem of child labour in the cotton sector in Uzbekistan and fully shares Parliament’s concerns in this respect. We have already been monitoring for quite some time Uzbekistan’s compliance with its obligations in the field of child labour under the Conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the relevant United Nations conventions. The EU regularly relays concerns about forced child labour in the country in its political dialogue with Uzbekistan.

The country has taken some steps to address the problem, notably by ratifying two ILO conventions concerning child labour and by setting up a national legislative framework against forced labour and child labour. However, what matters is not only the ratification but the actual implementation of these conventions. In this respect, it is a fact that the use of child labour in the cotton sector in Uzbekistan is still an issue of concern.

Therefore the Commission will, in close cooperation with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, continue to monitor the situation and actively scale up its efforts to urge the Uzbek Government to take the necessary steps to fully implement the ILO conventions.

We undertook a mission to Uzbekistan in November 2011. The EU team enjoyed the full cooperation of the Uzbek authorities and discussions with international organisations confirmed some positive changes in certain regions during this year’s harvest.

The Uzbek authorities showed new openness to discuss the issue and there have been some positive signs about cooperation with the ILO. The Uzbek side emphasised that the problem can only be handled by means of a gradual approach, notably by restructuring and diversifying the agricultural sector so as to reduce dependency on the cotton sector.

We fully agree with Parliament – and this has been our message to the Uzbek authorities – that the best way to have a clear and accurate picture of the situation would be to allow the ILO to undertake a mission to the country.

The Commission is open to make the necessary arrangements with Parliament to jointly monitor the situation in cooperation with the relevant international institutions and to regularly assess the situation with a view to resuming this consent procedure as soon as reasonably possible. While we fully understand the justified human rights concerns, we are of the view that an agreement that serves only the EU deserves to receive the consent of the European Parliament in a timely manner.

 
  
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  Cristiana Muscardini, on behalf of the PPE Group. (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, it is true that ever since 1990, there has been a bilateral agreement still to be formalised by this Parliament, but how is it possible to approve a protocol on the trade in textiles when there remain the alarming doubts so clearly expressed by Mr Cutaş?

In the report by the rapporteur of the Committee on International Trade and the Committee on Foreign Affairs, all the various political groups together reached a compromise to express with a single voice our condemnation of forced child labour and our call for the international control bodies, such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), to be respected, since they have the right to inspect, free from all constraints and threats.

The fact that the ambassador has provided no answers and that the Commission itself, after so many years have passed, is incapable of providing concrete, clear and certain answers, means the doubts that have caused concern in our debate in recent weeks still persist.

We all know that the volume of trade in textiles between our countries represents a residual percentage. Nonetheless, tomorrow’s vote is symbolic, since it will send out a signal not only to Uzbekistan, but to all our commercial partners in central Asia.

International trade is a foreign policy instrument, a guarantor of respect for equitable and shared rules, which are necessary for an orderly and competitive market capable of developing worldwide economic relations, but also of respecting human rights.

Parliament does not presume to condemn a country, but wishes, and has the duty, to demand the temporary suspension of approval of the trade protocol until the Uzbek Government allows international observers to enter the country. Once this agreement has been temporarily suspended, we must also address the issue of what our position should be towards any strategic and trade agreement with countries in which there is no certainty of respect for the most fundamental human rights.

 
  
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  Nicole Kiil-Nielsen, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.(FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, yesterday, Baroness Ashton stated that human rights should henceforth run as a silver thread throughout all of our external actions.

The European Union is one of the main trading partners of Uzbekistan and a major importer of cotton. In view of conditions during the cotton harvest, Parliament is duty-bound to shoulder its moral responsibility and refuse to consent to this agreement as long as Uzbekistan continues to deny access to the independent mission of the International Labour Organisation, and until that mission confirms that reforms have been implemented, bringing an end to forced child labour.

For the first time ever, thanks to the Treaty of Lisbon, Parliament can use its new powers and refuse to ratify a trade agreement in the name of human rights. Our action is therefore consistent with the values we defend, and conforms to what is being demanded by NGOs, trade unions and textile retailers’ groups, who are calling for ethical production. The ball is now in the Commission’s court, and it should withdraw the scheme of generalised tariff preferences for Uzbekistan.

 
  
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  David Martin, on behalf of the S&D Group. – Mr President, I want to congratulate my colleague, Mr Cutaş, on a very good report and thank the Commissioner for his reply.

It seems that we are all on the same page on this issue. The evidence that has come from a variety of organisations suggests that as many as 200 000 children are used to harvest the cotton in Uzbekistan. Parents and teachers are forced to comply or risk losing their jobs. The police and the prosecution service pressurise families. Families are threatened with the loss of electricity, or loss of social security. There is no question that forced child labour is taking place in Uzbekistan.

So, to accept this proposal would not be in line with our principle of coherence between trade policy and human rights. It would not be in line with our commitments to the international rights of the child, and it would not be in line with our strong line on tackling corruption.

As others have said, we need clear, independent monitoring from the ILO and clear evidence from the Uzbekistan authorities that serious efforts are being made to tackle forced child labour before there can be any question of this issue coming back on our agenda.

I agree with the previous speaker as well that if nothing is done, we also have to look at the GSP+ situation for Uzbekistan. As the Commissioner rightly acknowledges, it is not enough simply to pass and simply to ratify two ILO Conventions. They must be implemented.

 
  
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  Niccolò Rinaldi, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (IT) Mr President, I shall begin with a poem by an Uzbek poet, Jogdor Obid (I translate from the English): ‘Little hands, little slaves dream of warm and sunny days, but suffer from coughs and tremble as they walk. Little hands and little slaves, children’s thoughts, dreams of tenderness, but it all ends up dead and buried’. This is the testimony of Jogdor Obid, describing cotton-picking by children in Uzbekistan.

This took place in the period of the Soviet Union. Some things have changed, others have not. For example, the power structure has not changed: the Uzbek President today is the same one who, in 1991, was at the head of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan. Other things have changed: the situation of children in the cotton fields is worse, much worse. In other interviews, Jogdor Obid speaks of seven-year-olds who are slaves, being bought and sold in Uzbekistan to harvest cotton.

This is an intolerable situation: our demands are the same as those already mentioned: access for International Labour Organisation (ILO) inspectors; for Uzbekistan to act in accordance with the values of human rights, which are, in fact, included in the country’s constitution; for the Commission to propose a traceability mechanism for the cotton harvested, free from the trade in children and their condition as slaves; again for the Commission, also on the basis of the ILO findings, possibly to decide the suspension of the Generalised System of Privileges (GSP) for Uzbekistan. We have done this with the Sri Lanka GSP+, and we could think of doing the same with Uzbekistan.

Naturally, there will be no agreement on this protocol by the European Parliament, which can rely on its new Lisbon powers; at stake are the ever-stricter values of the European Union, not least as concerns our international trade policy.

 
  
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  Keith Taylor, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Mr President, the Greens on the Committee on International Trade fully support the report’s position, which is calling for Uzbekistan to take concrete and convincing measures to eradicate child labour before the Parliament can give consent to textiles being covered by the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. I think it is perfectly right that we should be withholding European Parliament consent to this Protocol with Uzbekistan until those breaches have been stopped.

In relation to the textiles, there is clear evidence of state-sanctioned, systematic and widespread forced labour in the Uzbek cotton fields. Schools are being closed during the harvest period and thousands upon thousands of school children are being forced to work in the fields collecting cotton. This is not the treatment that any child should have to tolerate. We would not tolerate it for our children. Those children in Uzbekistan are our children; we should have a responsibility for them.

 
  
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  Paul Murphy, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – Mr President, let us be absolutely explicit about the situation in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan.

According to some NGOs, up to 2 million children, some as young as seven, are forced to work in these fields. They face really horrific conditions – 10-hour working days, exposure to harmful pesticides – and risk physical harm or expulsion from school if they refuse to do it. Despite that and despite the condemnations, including by the EU, of the conditions in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan, the reality is that the government of Uzbekistan still benefits from reduced tariffs under GSP.

Again and again in this House, the gulf between words and actions is great. That gulf should be closed here. The Uzbek Government’s blanket denials are simply not credible, given the multitude of independent reports and the fact that the government refuses to allow access to the ILO.

The attempts by the right wing in this Parliament to water down the report are outrageous in my opinion. They should answer to a 14-year old boy from Uzbekistan who said: ‘We’re really afraid of getting expelled from school. Every September 2, the first day of school, the Director warns us that if we don’t go out to pick cotton, we might as well not come back to school. The school administration does everything to create the impression that the schoolchildren themselves are the ones who have decided to go out to the cotton fields. But just try to ‘voluntarily’ not go out to the harvest! We’re all forced to obey this unwritten law’.

No consent should be given to this agreement and there must be no ambiguity about that. Consent can only be considered after the ILO has been allowed access and after the practice of forced child labour has been ended.

 
  
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  Matteo Salvini, on behalf of the EFD Group.(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, we will support this report and we thank the rapporteur for his work. I am the seventh or eighth person to take the floor to say the same thing. If the Commission really believes that what we debate in Parliament counts for something, it should take action tomorrow, not with a report, or a threat, or a proposal for a measure.

If it is true, and here the whole House is saying the same thing, from left to right – that thousands of children are forcibly sent to work in the cotton fields (and I think that the evidence now proves that it is so), then we vote in favour of this report. Yet if, tomorrow morning, no practical action against the government of Uzbekistan is taken by the European Commission, it will mean that we have lost, and we have wasted our time here tonight, as well as helping to destroy the credibility of Parliament, the Commission and the European institutions, and that we have several hundred thousand children on our consciences. Children who, if the debate continues so slowly, will continue next year to do what they have been forced to do for decades.

Therefore, we support this report. However, I hope that at eight, when the debate ends, and with tomorrow’s vote, the problem will not be shelved, and I hope that the Commission will act, today rather than tomorrow.

 
  
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  Daniel Caspary (PPE).(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the terrible way that large parts of the cotton harvest are gathered in Uzbekistan has been mentioned many times. As a father of two children, I would find it utterly horrific if my children experienced something similar to what happens to many children in Uzbekistan. However, we all know – and we mention this in our report – that we cannot change everything overnight. Nevertheless, I think that it is legitimate for us as the European Parliament – and fortunately the Commission is in agreement with us here – to demand that something has to change, at least in terms of the approach. What we are demanding, namely, that the International Labour Organisation is genuinely able to move around freely in the country and get a picture of the situation first hand so that we are not always relying on the unconfirmed reports of various non-governmental organisations, but will actually get an objective picture of how things stand, is completely reasonable.

We all ought to know that this will be a gradual process. We should not hide behind child labour. Instead, I hope that the European Commission will actually consider how we can help the Uzbek people to overcome this situation. We all know that, if this is a process that has to take its course, then we ought to consider how we can provide very practical assistance to the Uzbek Government and the Uzbek people to increase their use of technology in this regard. That means that it cannot be a solution to completely stop all trade, because if they cannot sell us any more cotton, they will not have any money to invest in technology in order to be able to eradicate child labour. Instead, I would like to see the Commission presenting us with a road map today for how, if the Uzbeks finally allow ILO observers into the country, we can find a realistic way in the coming years, together with the Uzbeks, to help them to improve this situation step by step over the next few years, following a realistic timetable. We should not simply make demands; in this case, we should also make a straightforward and acceptable offer of help.

 
  
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  Maria Eleni Koppa (S&D).(EL) Mr President, we are being called upon today to demonstrate if the European Parliament is remaining faithful to its principles. Given the human rights situation, especially forced child labour, I consider it impossible for us to consent to the amendment to the partnership agreement with Uzbekistan unless we first ensure that important changes will be made to that country’s policy and, more importantly, that a stop will be put to forced child labour. The practices applied in that country are mediaeval and the government continues to deny that there is a problem.

Observers from the International Labour Organisation must be allowed in and must have free access, so that a proper assessment can be made. It is not enough for Uzbekistan to sign agreements under international pressure; it must also apply them. How can children be taken out of school for three months and be sent to harvest cotton and their parents threatened with serious penalties if they refuse? The Union cannot turn a blind eye yet again and apply double standards to its practices, on the off-chance that a few European textile companies might benefit.

 
  
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  Catherine Bearder (ALDE). – Mr President, Jordan, a schoolgirl from my constituency speaking about forced child labour last week, said that this needs to stop. With four other friends, she left home at 5.30 in the morning to make a trip to our Parliament with a petition for the President. Jordan went on, ‘I am here to ask the European politicians what they are going to do to stop it’. Well, what are we going to do?

This is something that every MEP should be asking. As the Uzbek cotton harvest ends, there are again reports of children as young as eight being forced to work long hours in the cotton fields. The Khorezm region mobilised 170 000 schoolchildren during the harvest. Eight college directors were reportedly beaten to coerce them to pick cotton.

The Parliament must send a strong message to Uzbekistan that this practice must cease. Uzbekistan has made no credible efforts to end this practice. It does not cooperate with the ILO, despite signing relevant conventions, and it failed to invite ILO observers once again during this harvest. In the Committee on International Trade, we bent over backwards to give the government a hearing but they failed to send anyone to speak to MEPs.

This is not acceptable and it cannot be business as usual. We now need to send a strong message. I want to be able to go back to the children in my constituency to say that we heard their voices because they were speaking up for the thousands of silent voices of children in Uzbekistan. The crimes of the cotton fields must stop now.

 
  
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  Inese Vaidere (PPE). (LV) Mr President, Uzbekistan, like the rest of the Central Asian countries, is a resource-rich and important partner of the European Union. It is the fifth largest cotton manufacturer and the third largest cotton exporter in the world. The European Union is the largest importer of Uzbek cotton in the world. These facts provide us with the opportunity and the duty to positively influence the development of Uzbekistan and bilateral cooperation, to promote progress both in the field of economics and in human rights. However, excessively didactic rhetoric, which may achieve exactly the opposite, should be avoided. The citizens of Uzbekistan have a positive attitude towards the European Union, and in order to strengthen cooperation, I believe, the activities of the delegation of the European Union in Tashkent will be important. The work on the standpoint of Parliament in relation to the protocol was not easy, especially because of existing concerns in the field of human rights. Both in the report and in the opinion of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, strong condemnation of any forced labour was expressed. After examining the facts, I have come to two main conclusions. Firstly, Uzbekistan has to ensure that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) may operate freely in the country. At the same time, we must take into account that Uzbekistan has already taken significant strides towards resolving the problems by ratifying 13 ILO conventions and most of the UN conventions on human rights, and these principles have been incorporated in the Uzbek constitution. Forced child labour has been made a criminal offence. Secondly, it is essential to ensure that the agricultural sector is modernised. It is therefore important to sign the protocol on trade in textiles with Uzbekistan, which should be done without undue delay as soon as the International Labour Organisation confirms that certain reforms have been implemented and forced labour has been effectively eradicated.

 
  
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  Justas Vincas Paleckis (S&D). (LT) Mr President, I welcome the rapporteur’s position that the agreement with Uzbekistan on trade in textile products should not be based purely on economic considerations. Tashkent denies that child labour is being used in the country, but its unwillingness to give access to representatives from the International Labour Organisation and other observers would suggest otherwise. The European Union must use all of its influence to change the situation. The country’s government is incapable of dealing with agriculture, halting the destruction of nature and the wasting of water. Whether we like it or not, companies from EU Member States that buy as much as a quarter of the country’s cotton are supporting this failing system.

Half in jest half in earnest, I would propose that we should perhaps demand that all EU companies buying cotton from Uzbekistan mark their products ‘possibly manufactured using child labour’. Maybe this would help speed up change in the country?

 
  
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  Joachim Zeller (PPE). (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, it was exactly 20 years ago that the Central Asian states received their national independence as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Emerging from a dictatorship, the development of democratic structures and the rule of law in these states remains a constant challenge. Nevertheless, on account of their rich deposits of mineral resources and raw materials, these states are important trading partners for the EU and its Member States. It is therefore only logical to regulate the EU’s relations with these states within the framework of partnership and cooperation agreements. Partnership and cooperation agreements should facilitate cooperation and lead to the two parties trading as partners, but not to unilateral stigmatisation.

Child labour, and particularly forced child labour, is an evil that, unfortunately, is prevalent in many countries of this world and must be combated. However, I would ask you to consider the fact that in many European regions dominated by agriculture, it was common for the school holidays to be extended for the children during harvest time in order to allow children from farming families to help out with the harvest, which is something that no one would describe as forced labour today. However, should there be indications that forced child labour is being used in the cotton harvest in Uzbekistan, then the appropriate action must be taken.

The same action must then be taken for all other states in which there is still child labour, even for those states where we are pursuing economic interests on a completely different scale, like India or China. We must not apply double standards here.

 
  
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  Nicole Sinclaire (NI). – Mr President, I think Mr Murphy has summed this up perfectly; he talks about words and actions and that is what lies before us here. That is the decision that we have to make, or the Commission has to make. This is a question of values and puts into sharp focus Baroness Ashton’s assertion yesterday that human rights will be a thread in all the EU does.

As has been said many times here, Uzbekistan is the third largest exporter of cotton worldwide; almost half that cotton is picked by state-sponsored forced child labour. Children suffer appalling conditions during the cotton harvest. Many contract hepatitis from insanitary conditions, and there have even been reports of police throwing stones at children who were not picking cotton because they were sick.

So far, the European Union has failed to take action on this issue, but it is clear from all parts of this Chamber that this is an issue of importance that needs immediate attention. I would like to see a plan from the Commission, not rhetoric. Suspension of GSP would be a good start.

 
  
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  Csanád Szegedi (NI).(HU) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Uzbekistan is, or rather should be, strategically important to the European Union. Not just Uzbekistan, but essentially the entire region of Central Asia. There are three aspects that must definitely be taken into account if an agreement is concluded between the European Union and Uzbekistan. Firstly, the more sources of supply the European Union has the better. We must obviously not be vulnerable due to a sole dependency on Chinese cotton exports, and it is therefore good for the European Union to have ties with Uzbekistan which is, as far as I know, the world’s third biggest cotton exporter. However, from a human rights standpoint, Uzbekistan definitely needs to make progress, and in respect of child labour, the European Union must make no concessions whatsoever.

Very firm action must be taken against child labour. I say this as someone who has two children. The third condition that must be satisfied is that the interests of the European textile industry must also be considered.

 
  
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  Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the Commission. – Mr President, I want to thank the honourable Members for this very serious and important debate.

Let me focus on the course to suspend the generalised system of preferences (GSP preferences). On behalf of the Commission, I take note of the references made to the generalised system of preferences of which Uzbekistan is currently a beneficiary. The GSP is an incentive-based tool to support development. Its aim is to help developing countries to advance towards a better respect of international conventions on human and labour rights as well as to lock in essential reforms in these fields.

The GSP preferences can be withdrawn from beneficiaries in cases of serious and systemic violations of the principles that are laid down in international instruments such as the core International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions.

We will continue to keep the situation under review, given that the legal conditions for suspension are not presently met, and we shall act accordingly. In the meantime, we will intensify the constructive dialogue we have with Uzbekistan to help the ILO gain access to Uzbek cotton fields.

We very highly appreciate the cooperation with Parliament in this regard.

 
  
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  George Sabin Cutaş, rapporteur.(RO) Mr President, first of all, I want to thank all my colleagues who took the floor during this debate. I am grateful for the statements they made.

I believe that we can draw a single conclusion today following this debate: Parliament cannot approve this agreement until we are certain about and obtain confirmation of an ILO mission in Uzbekistan.

Last but not least, I am, of course, in favour of adopting a constructive approach. However, as long as there is no dialogue and no discussion partner, I believe, Commissioner, that you must give very serious consideration to the European Union initiating an inquiry into the temporary withdrawal of the Generalised System of Preferences rights, not to mention that we have a fairly large political influence, because European Union exports to Uzbekistan amount to no more than 0.5% of the total, and this is why I believe that we can have a fairly large influence on our partners.

As I have said, we definitely need dialogue and a partner that you can talk to. As I have also said, we in this Parliament have failed to have this dialogue with the Uzbek representatives. In all sincerity, I would very much like us to find a solution, but, in the meantime, the only conclusion we must reach is to wait and see how the Uzbek Government responds.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow (Thursday, 15 December 2011).

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Elisabeth Köstinger (PPE), in writing.(DE) Tomorrow, the European Parliament will debate the partnership and cooperation agreement between the EU, of the one part, and the Republic of Uzbekistan, of the other part. The technical aspect that needs to be discussed here is clear. Incorporating provisions on trading in textiles into the partnership and cooperation agreement is intended, above all, to guarantee more security for the European economy. As Uzbekistan does not belong to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), in the event of arbitrary changes to duties or other non-tariff barriers to trade on the part of Uzbekistan, there would be little that could be done from a legal point of view. In light of this, extending the partnership and cooperation agreement to cover trade in textiles is a logical step. The fact that Uzbekistan has been facing accusations of forced child labour for a long time is something that causes me a great deal more concern, however. These accusations need to be put to rest once and for all. International observers, for example, from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), must investigate the current state of affairs in the country and provide clarification on this matter. Should these fears be confirmed, the EU must not support this situation by extending its trade. Forced child labour and the worst kinds of child labour must be combated globally. I therefore support the interim report that has been tabled by the rapporteur with the support of all the groups, which ties approval of the amendment to the partnership and cooperation agreement to clear conditions.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: ANNI PODIMATA
Vice-President

(The sitting was suspended at 19.50 and resumed at 21.00)

 
Last updated: 19 March 2012Legal notice