About 200,000 Filipino workers stand to lose their jobs if the European Union revokes the country's tariff privileges for Filipino goods over concerns about human rights abuses here, Vice President Leni Robredo warned Sunday.
Robredo's warning dovetailed with that of the Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. (PhilExport), the umbrella organization of Philippine exporters.
The European Parliament's threat to suspend the country's Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) status will affect up to 20 percent of its exports to the EU, Philexport president Sergio Ortiz-Luis, Jr.
“If you cannot find a replacement, of course, companies will be affected, especially during this pandemic... If the status will be removed, many jobs will be affected," he told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
He described the threat as alarming, since 9 percent of the country's exports go to the EU. In 2019, he said, the country had 8 billion euro in trade and enjoyed a GSP preference of some 1.9 billion euro.
Robredo, meanwhile, urged the government to make good its commitment to uphold human rights, instead of challenging the EU's recommendation to revoke the Philippines’ GSP+ status.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque dared the European Parliament to “go ahead” with its threat to pull the Philippines’ trade privileges.
Robredo criticized Roque's statement, saying the right reaction would be to show that the country is abiding by its human rights commitments.
The European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP), meanwhile, called for the retention of the country's GSP+ status, saying revoking it would result in massive social and economic repercussions in the Philippines, and would compromise the notable progress that the EU and the Philippines have built over the years.
ECCP president Nabil Francis said considering the EU is among the largest trading partners of the Philippines, removing its GSP+ status would jeopardize jobs in both the agriculture and manufacturing sector.
He said Philippine exports to the EU increased by 27 percent a year after the country qualified for GSP+, and revoking the benefits of GSP+ amid the COVID-19 pandemic “will also exacerbate the economic situation” in the country.
Under the EU GSP+, some 6,274 types of goods enter the EU market at zero tariff.
In the EU GSP+ report for 2018-2019 published early this year, the country’s utilization rate of the preferential trade arrangement is at 73.1 percent in 2018.
The EU Delegation to the Philippines also estimated that around EUR 2 billion (P113 billion) or 25 percent of the country’s total exports to EU enter the trade bloc under GSP+.
EU lawmakers released a resolution last week calling on the EU Commission to initiate the procedure to temporarily revoke the granting of GSP+ status to the Philippines over the alleged "seriousness of the human rights violations” here.
Under the preferential trade arrangement, the Philippines must adhere to the 27 international conventions on human rights, labor rights, environmental protection, and good governance to continue enjoying the GSP+ benefits.
Maurizio Cellini, head of Trade and Economic Affairs of the EU Delegation to the Philippines, said in an online media conference on Aug.13 hosted by ECCP that the EU draws its “overall assessment on the basis of the whole picture” -- looking it in a global perspective and overall situation in the country.
Cellini was commenting on the possible development concerning restoring the death penalty in the country, a human rights issue also flagged by the international community.
“GSP+ also depends on human rights issues, labor issues, environmental issues, good governance issues. We would like to look at the picture from a global angle,” he said.
Meanwhile, a senior economist at Kuala Lumpur-based Juwai IQI Global said the Philippines can survive even if the EU decides to halt granting the GSP+ status,
“The recent action of the EU against Manila clearly indicates that the EU has failed miserably in terms of economic outlook and wants to pursue myopic policies which are going to hurt European consumers more than Philippines consumers,” Juwai IQI Global chief economist Shan Saeed said in an e-mail.
“[The] Philippines can find new markets,” he added.
Also on Sunday, a former envoy to the United Nations said the Philippine should not be too concerned by the recommendation to revoke the country's tariff privileges.
Former Philippine permanent representative to the United Nations Lauro Baja said Manila should instead monitor the response of the European Commission to the EU Parliament’s call.
“We take notice, we pay attention but no reason to be duly concerned. The EU Parliament is a deliberative body. What they issue is a declaratory resolution, which we are entitled to do,” Baja said, in an interview over Dobol B sa News TV.
“Let’s watch out for what the European Commission will do. That is the EU executive arm,” Baja added.
Baja stressed that the Duterte administration can settle the issue through dialogue with the EU.
Nonetheless, Baja considered the move of the EU Parliament as a clear intervention in domestic affairs of the Philippines.
He said the principle of sovereignty should prevail over the feelings, resolution, or statement of a regional organization.
“The EU threat is off because we are in the middle of a pandemic,” Baja said.