EU to strike Belarus trade blow in September
The European Commission has confirmed it will recommend expelling Belarus from the EU`s low-tariff trade regime - the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) - in September, but pushed back formalities for two months due to "technical reasons."
A commission official told EUobserver on Thursday (20 July) that the Brussels executive has already taken the decision after Belarus failed to improve trade union rights over the past year. "Nothing has changed with regard to Belarus` lack of compliance with GSP standards," he said.
The commission`s trade department was unable to rubber stamp its proposal before the summer break, as planned, due to "problems with tabulating economic data." But the timetable - with member states set to endorse the move in late September and actual expulsion in March 2006 - will not be affected, the contact added.
"In theory, Belarus can still introduce reforms over the summer. But this would have been equally true at any point before the member states` decision," he explained. The expulsion is set to see prohibitive tariffs slapped on ¬390 million a year of Belarusian mineral, textile and wood exports to the EU.
Belarus neighbours Poland and Lithuania had initially objected to the expulsion, saying it represents the EU "making a political statement at the cost of our small traders" without hurting president Alexander Lukashenko, whose main income flows from energy and arms sales not covered by the GSP.
Some EU diplomats are also concerned the move will see Brussels criticised for double standards and political interference by Lukashenko`s state-dominated media machine. "Cuba and Uzbekistan have full GSP privileges despite equally worrying reports about respect for workers` rights," one diplomat stated.
But Poland and Lithuania will not seek to block member states` September decision, with most EU countries and the EU`s foreign affairs envoy Javier Solana taking the line that Brussels would lose credibility on its commitment to GSP standards if it let Belarus off the hook.
Burma is the only other country ever to be kicked out from GSP, in 1997. The Minsk expulsion would be the latest in a line of EU psychological blows against the Lukashenko government, with a visa ban and foreign asset freeze on 37 Belarus officials imposed earlier this year.