By Jenina P. Ibañez
THE European Commission has raised “serious concerns” about President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s war on drugs, attacks on human rights defenders and his plan to restore capital punishment.
The commission also listed the country’s shrinking civil society space and a plan to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility as issues in its GSP+ report released in Brussels on Monday.
The Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) is an incentive agreement where 6,274 products enjoy zero-tariff entry to the European Union (EU) provided the country follows 27 core international conventions that include human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance.
The report called the possible return of the death penalty for drug offenders “a worrying development” and would violate an international protocol ratified by the Philippines in 2007.
The draft bill reducing the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years from 15 would also go against international standards, the commission said in a report posted on its website.
“Persistent ongoing concerns since the last GSP report are the reports of thousands of extrajudicial killings of people allegedly involved in drug trade and use and the lack of proper investigation,” according to the report.
On the other hand, the Philippines had made some progress in fighting poverty, hunger, joblessness and in protecting the environment.
The government has passed legislation on biodiversity conservation and has been tackling corruption, it said.
The Philippines maintained ratification of all 27 GSP+ conventions and fulfilled its reporting obligations except for racial discrimination, according to the biennial report covering 2018 to 2019.
The country was also delayed in four environmental conventions — international trade of endangered species, climate change, biosafety and the production and use of persistent organic pollutants.
The report said the country had slowly increased its use of GSP+ preferences to 26% of its total exports to the EU in 2018.
This places the Philippines at the lower end among beneficiary countries. Bangladesh placed 96.4% of its exports to the EU under GSP+, followed by Cambodia at 94.9%.
The country’s use of GSP+ compared with all eligible exports was 73.1%, compared with 74% in 2017 and 71.2% in 2016.
Philippine exports that benefit from GSP+ include coconut oil, preserved tuna, bicycles, pineapple products, fruit jams and some garments and footwear.
“The Philippines’ main exports to the EU under GSP+ are relatively diversified, with significant portions of animal or vegetable oils and fats, electrical equipment and foodstuffs,” according to the report.
The GSP+ monitoring mission included a visit to Manila and Cebu in late 2018.
Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. President Sergio Ortiz-Luis said he was not worried about losing the preferential treatment after the commission relayed its concerns, noting that these had been mentioned before.
The country, however, must improve its usage rate, he said. “Our use of the GSP+ has been limited. It’s not the same as our neighbors.”
Mr. Ortiz-Luis said exporters especially in the garment sector, which is dominated by small businesses, should get more funding.
Ser Percival K. Peña-Reyes, an economist at the Ateneo de Manila University, said the EU does not figure prominently in Philippine trade statistics.
But the country must diversify its revenue sources because remittances and outsourcing revenues are threatened by the US-China trade war and artificial intelligence, he said in a mobile phone message.
“So if the EU is lowering the barriers for our exports, then why not take advantage of that?” Mr. Reyes said. “It’s the practical thing to do. EU could be a large export market for our agricultural products.”
Exports to the European Union fell by 7.8% to $8.22 billion in 2019 from a year earlier, accounting for 11.68% of total Philippine exports, according to Philippine Statistics Authority data.
By Jenina P. Ibañez