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EU cited progress in Philippine human rights — Trade chief

EUROPEAN UNION (EU) officials have seen progress in the Philippines’ human rights situation, which is a condition for the extension of trade perks, according to the Trade department.

“When we talked to them, they were checking, because they have raised certain issues in the past,” Trade Secretary Alfredo E. Pascual told a news briefing on Wednesday after a three-day Philippine investment roadshow in Europe.

 “We just have very specific concerns that we were able to address, and they were happy about it,” he said. “They have seen progress, it’s not as if nothing has happened to address the issues that they are concerned with.”

The Generalized Scheme of Preferences or GSP+ requires the Philippines to uphold commitments to 27 international conventions on human rights, labor, good governance and the environment.

It allows the Philippines to enjoy zero tariffs on more than 6,000 products or 66% of all EU tariff lines. Some of the top Philippine exports to the EU under the trade scheme are crude coconut oil, vacuum cleaners, preserved tuna, hairdressing equipment and preserved pineapple.

Mr. Pascual said the renewal of the GSP+ for the Philippines and the resumption of free trade talks with the EU were discussed during his meetings with EU officials.

On July 4, the European Commission proposed to extend the validity of the Philippines’ participation in the trade scheme, which is set to expire by yearend, until Dec. 31, 2027. But this still needs the approval of the European Parliament and European Council.

“I was fortunate to meet with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen,” Mr. Pascual said. “In my business meetings, I emphasized the significant policy reforms the Philippine government has been undertaking to create an enabling, friendly business environment for foreign investments in our country.”

Members of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights visited the Philippines earlier this year in line with the “open and regular engagement on human rights” between the Philippines and EU.

In its assessment of Mr. Marcos’ first year in office, global watchdog Human Rights Watch said the Philippine leader has done little to improve the country’s human rights situation.

It said killings related to the so-called “war on drugs” continue “though at a lower rate” compared with his predecessor Rodrigo R. Duterte.

“The authorities remain responsible for extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests of activists and outspoken critics,” it said.

The group cited the continuing political persecution of Senator Leila M. de Lima, one of Mr. Duterte’s fiercest critics.

“President Marcos needs to do more than issue statements about democracy and the rule of law to demonstrate a genuine commitment to human rights,” the group said. “Without concrete action to break old patterns of abuses and secure accountability for past crimes, his words have little credibility.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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