Interview of the Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan H. E. Ms Androulla Kaminara by Aaj TV
Transcript of the Interview
Munizae Jahangir: Ambassador Androulla Kaminara, thank you so much for giving us this interview. Now you are giving this interview at a time when there is a perception in Pakistan at this time that the European Union is set to revoke Pakistan’s preferential trade status. \
Androulla Kaminara: Well, let me first of all explain how this trade regime works and where we are in the process to be able to answer your question. GSP Plus trade regime has been created in order to give incentive to third world countries to implement reforms and to be in a process of modernisation and democratisation. In that context, the procedure is the following: it’s the European Commission that does reports on the progress of each country in implementing the reforms of GSP plus. That report goes to the European Parliament and the European Council and relevant decisions are taken. Now what has taken place recently, it’s an initiative of a member of the European Parliament, who tabled a resolution, which is their prerogative to do. But it is a resolution that has been supported by the overwhelming majority of the members of the European Parliament. In fact, 683 members of the European Parliament supported the resolution. So, it’s an important step, but that does not mean that there is an automatic decision to revoke GSP plus vis a vis Pakistan. It does give a very serious signal though, that there is a need to accelerate the reforms and that there is a concern on certain obligations of Pakistan, that these have to be implemented. In fact, the report talks about a number of areas which have already been reflected in the report that the European Commission did in February 2020, where we were requesting that faster acceleration of reforms takes place.
MJ: Now one of the things that the European Parliament and Europe has been concerned with is the death penalty. Now we understand that there has been really no actual death penalty carried out in the last few months. So, what prompted the European Parliament to table this resolution at this time?
AK: As I said, it’s the initiative of one member of parliament to decide to table this, but others followed in what he was proposing. On the death penalty, Pakistan is about three or four percent of the world’s population. It has one quarter – twenty-five percent – of the world’s death row prisoners, which is a very big part of the world’s death row prisoners. On the other hand, Pakistan has thirty-three crimes that can lead to the death penalty. What Pakistan needs to do under GSP plus is to reduce the scope of the death penalty. The European Union is against the death penalty wherever it occurs. But according to GSP plus, what Pakistan has signed up for, it is not to eliminate totally the death penalty but to limit the number of crimes that can lead to the death penalty, that leads to over four and a half thousand currently being on death row in Pakistan. So, this is what we are requesting.
MJ: There are other things that are mentioned in the resolution for example human rights, and of course women’s rights. What does Pakistan have to do to ensure that it doesn’t get to a point where GSP plus status is actually revoked?
AK: Well, this is one of the topics that we are in constant discussion with the government of Pakistan, at all levels. When we have negotiations, for example the strategic dialogue that took place between Foreign Minister Qureshi and HR VP Borrell in November last year, issues of human rights linked to the GSP plus status were discussed, and the need to accelerate real reforms was also discussed. So, we are in constant discussion with the government. What we assess as the European Commission is to basically see that a country is improving, that a country is on a path to implementing all of these twenty-seven UN conventions. We are very much aware that things cannot be done overnight, but on the other hand there are certain issues that have been on the agenda that have been pending for a very long time, where no progress has taken place, and on even some other things, there has been a backtrack. I’ll give you a very simple example. The last report we issued talked about the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR). The NCHR basically is ineffective since May 2019. So basically, for two years, there are no commissioners in this national human rights commission of Pakistan. So, with respect to that, there is a backtracking from the previous situation that existed in the past. But what Pakistan needs to do on the basis of each convention is quite clearly identified in each of the conventions that Pakistan has signed, and also in the last report that we did.
MJ: You have been in Pakistan for some time. How has your engagement been with this government? Has it been beneficial? Do you think that they are moving closer – this is obviously a step back, the resolution at the European Parliament – but do you think that currently the engagement that you have with the government will ensure that we move towards a way where the GSP plus status is eventually not revoked.
AK: Okay. Let me say that there were 2 previous resolutions in 2014 and in 2017 by the European Parliament. Similar types of resolutions, on issues of human rights. The second point is, when we are talking GSP plus, it’s not just something that benefits a particular government, it benefits the people of a particular country. It’s not our role to assess what a particular government – we just say, where was it where a particular reform was in the past, where are we now, and is it progress or is there no progress. So, on certain things there has been some progress, I have to admit. For example, on child labour there were some pretty major steps taking place at the federal level, on child labour law which is one of the obligations. There hasn’t been enough at the provincial level. On others, more or less there hasn’t been any change, and on others like the NCHR that I mentioned, having a body that isn’t functioning for two years is obviously backtracking and not progress.
MJ: There is a perception in Pakistan that since the GSP Plus status is linked to the human rights record, the government of Pakistan will not react by improving the human rights record, and therefore when you do revoke the GSP plus status, in case it does happen, it will be the people of Pakistan that will suffer, because obviously our textile industry depends hugely on it. Is there another way? Would that be beneficial for example, to engage the Pakistani government? Do you really believe that that would bear fruit and would get exactly what the European Parliament sets out to do?
AK: So, let me clarify – there is no decision to revoke GSP plus from Pakistan right now. However, as I have explained, when there is a progress report which is a factual report, which is the mandate of the European Commission to do, that is discussed with the European Parliament and the European Council. So having so many European parliamentarians concerned - and I would say to a large extent on some of the issues, rightly so, because they are also reflected in the report that we are doing - is an issue and is a worry for Pakistan. But right now, we are not there. Secondly, as I have mentioned before, it’s not an issue just for the government. So, I’ll give you another example. Recently I have been in contact and I actually went to Faisalabad, which is the centre for textile exports from Pakistan, which is the sector that is benefitting more than anything else from GSP Plus. And I also talked to the business community. And I also talked to the business community not just on the other issues that concern us like the death penalty, but issues about implementation of labour law obligations of Pakistan. An example, one of the conventions talks about inspections of factories by inspectors, to see that there is no child labour, to see that health provisions are carried out correctly - a whole list of things. On this, the last report that we did said that yes, there are more inspectors, so therefore more factories are being inspected. In my discussion with some of the business community, now, they were suggesting that rather than having physical inspections – which in any case, there’s too few inspectors for the number of factories – that there should be remote inspections. This is something that the business community itself needs to address, and if that takes place, that will be a backtrack. So, it’s all parts of society that have a responsibility. Of course, the major responsibility is with the government and the political parties, but also, different parts of society, particularly the ones that are benefitting should be aware of that. And it should not be forgotten that the logic of GSP plus is, as I said, to give an incentive for reforms. Having Pakistani textiles go into the European market with zero import duties basically means that European producers sometimes have to compete with much cheaper Pakistani goods. So, if there is no reform it makes the whole trade regime, let’s say, illogical.
MJ: And not beneficial for the European Union, it seems. As one of your MPs said, it’s not a one-way street.
AK: Yes, GSP Plus has two sides to it. Imports from Europe to Pakistan - they are about five and a half billion Euros per year. Exports from Pakistan to the EU - seven and a half billion Euros. So, Pakistan is the one that’s benefitting – let’s say, if you do the equation, it’s benefitting a lot more from the regime than let’s say, the European manufacturers by exporting to Pakistan. But it’s also the political context, that you would have a country having, let’s say, European producers, having competition from Pakistani producers selling their products in Europe. But at the same time, if the other part of the equation – the reforms – is not taking place, that is a very big issue and that’s one of the things that I think Pakistan needs to consider quite seriously.
MJ: Well, coming back to the resolution, the foreign office has expressed it’s disappointment over the resolution. In fact, the Human Rights Minister, Shireen Mazari tweeted saying, and she tagged you to it and said “It is unfortunate that the co sponsor of the EU's anti Pakistan resolution was a member of a party that the Swedish PM Stefan Lofven referred to as "a neo-fascist single-issue party" with "Nazi and racist roots". Q now is whether GSP Plus is getting muddied in Islamophobia?” And the foreign office actually echoed that sentiment in some ways when they talked about Islamophobia.
AK: I won’t comment about the comments and the characterizations of Minister Mazari. What I can say is that every European Parliament member is a very valued member and represents European citizens. The second thing is, what is in GSP plus is something that Pakistan signed with the EU. So, what we are talking about, and the reports that I was talking about, the dialogue that we have, and in my tweet to Minister Mazari I did acknowledge that we are in contact, we are trying to promote these reforms, but we need to accelerate.
To come back to your question, there is a need for things to change because objectively on some of the things there has been no change, or on some of the things there has been, let’s say, some backtrack. And this is what we both signed up to do- we agreed to have a partnership according to these rules. And the partnership will go forward according to what has been signed.
MJ: Well, my last question to you, because we are going through a pandemic, and Europe has been one of the biggest contributors to Covax. How has the EU helped Pakistan during this crisis? We do know that you have donated a large amount to Covax. Will we be able to see some of that come to Pakistan soon?
AK: Absolutely, the European Union has contributed 2.4 billion dollars to Covax, which is the system for, among other things, helping research for the vaccine, but also helping developing countries have access to the vaccines. I don’t want to pre-empt but there will be a big delivery of several million vaccines shortly.
MJ: Shortly. We are not putting a time period to this?
AK: Within this week.
MJ: Within this week! Well, thank you, that’s very, very good news and I suppose we can end the interview with that good news. I know this is a time where the relationship at least is strained because of the resolution, but thank you so much for giving us this interview at this time and explaining to us exactly what is happening in the European Parliament, whether Pakistan will be looking at revoking. And, you said it’s just a resolution right now, there are many steps before that, and that we will be getting the vaccine very soon – that’s very good news.
AK: And I’d just like to say that we are in partnership with Pakistan, we wish to continue being in partnership with Pakistan, but we just need to look at some of the issues that are affecting progress.
MJ: Ambassador, thank you very much for giving us this interview.