Human rights in EU trade policy: Unilateral measures applied by the EU

30-05-2018

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90 third countries, the scheme includes explicit human rights conditionality, providing that preferences can be withdrawn in case of massive and systematic violations of core human rights or labour rights norms.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 under the GSP grants further tariff concessions to countries that ratify and implement a series of international conventions. Based on systematic monitoring by the European Commission, this special scheme is the most comprehensive and detailed human rights mechanism established in the framework of the common commercial policy. While the scheme has been particularly effective in encouraging beneficiary countries to make the necessary legislative and institutional changes, such progress has not been matched at the level of implementation. Suspension of preferences under GSP has been applied in only a few cases and, when it was, did not have an immediate and clear impact on the human rights situation. In practice, the EU has privileged a strategy of incentivising gradual progress through dialogue and monitoring, rather than withdrawing preferences. 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 equipment, and dual use goods. New legislation has recently been adopted on conflict minerals, and the European Parliament has called for a proposal for legislation to ban the import of goods produced using child labour. This is an updated edition of a briefing published in January 2017: PE 595.878.

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 under the GSP grants further tariff concessions to countries that ratify and implement a series of international conventions. Based on systematic monitoring by the European Commission, this special scheme is the most comprehensive and detailed human rights mechanism established in the framework of the common commercial policy. While the scheme has been particularly effective in encouraging beneficiary countries to make the necessary legislative and institutional changes, such progress has not been matched at the level of implementation. Suspension of preferences under GSP has been applied in only a few cases and, when it was, did not have an immediate and clear impact on the human rights situation. In practice, the EU has privileged a strategy of incentivising gradual progress through dialogue and monitoring, rather than withdrawing preferences. 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 equipment, and dual use goods. New legislation has recently been adopted on conflict minerals, and the European Parliament has called for a proposal for legislation to ban the import of goods produced using child labour. This is an updated edition of a briefing published in January 2017: PE 595.878.