The European Union (EU) has threatened to impose trade sanctions on Myanmar if it fails to address the concerns of the international community.
“The EU stands ready to provide necessary support to Myanmar to address the concerns of the international community. Nevertheless, withdrawal of trade preferences is a clear possibility if other channels of cooperation have failed to reach results,” it said.
A monitoring mission of experts from the European Commission and the European External Action Service visited Myanmar from October 28 to 31.This follows deeply worrying developments highlighted in various United Nations reports, in particular as regards human rights violations in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States and concerns around labour rights.
EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom said, “We now expect Myanmar to address the severe shortcomings that have been highlighted during this monitoring mission. If they do not act, Myanmar authorities are putting their country’s tariff-free access to the EU market in danger–a scheme which has proved to be vital for the economic and social development of the country, providing thousands of jobs to workers in sectors such as textiles, agriculture and fisheries.”
Malmstrom said trade, done right, is a powerful force for good. “Since several years, we have worked to ensure that trade preferences and access to the EU market are an incentive to promote fundamental human and labour rights.”The EU Trade Commissioner said they are committed to helping Myanmar improve the situation and ensure that the principles enshrined in the international conventions to which Myanmar has committed are not undermined.
The EU has reiterated at several occasions its serious concerns about the disproportionate use of force and widespread and systematic grave human rights violations committed by the Myanmar military and security forces, in particular in Rakhine State but also in Kachin and Shan States.
These violations were also evidenced most recently in the detailed report of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar in September of this year.The EU mission this week met with several ministers, as well as with trade unions, businesses, civil society, and United Nations and International Labour Organisation representatives in the country.
It provided the opportunity for an open dialogue with Myanmar on key issues such as: ensuring constructive cooperation with relevant UN bodies; supporting international efforts to investigate and prosecute individuals suspected of having committed crimes against humanity; ensuring full humanitarian access notably in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States; ensuring implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, creating conditions for a voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to their places of origin.
The EU mission also discussed its concerns regarding the continued use of forced labour in parts of the country, in particular by Myanmar’s armed forces, including child recruitment, as well as the need for further reforms as regards freedom of association and collective bargaining.
The high-level mission was part of the broader engagement that the European Commission has launched to monitor Myanmar’s respect of fifteen fundamental UN and International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.In order to continue to benefit from duty-free, quota-free access to the EU market through the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme, Myanmar must uphold and respect the principles enshrined in these conventions, it added.
The findings of this mission will feed into the analysis on whether to remove these trade preferences through a temporary EBA withdrawal procedure.The European Union will now analyse as a matter of priority the information gathered during the mission, as well as further information from the Myanmar government, before considering the next steps.
Under the EBA arrangement of the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), the EU unilaterally grants exporters from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) tariff-free and quota-free access to its market for all products (except arms and ammunition) with the aim to contribute to the economic development of these countries and their integration into the global trading system.