European Union’s delegation has expressed that they have not yet received any official communication from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) about the Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) trade status currently held by Pakistan.

Samar Saeed Akhtar, the Press Officer for the EU Delegation, clarified the EU’s stance to Dawn, stating, “We have not received any official communication from PTI regarding GSP+.”

In a press conference held on Wednesday, Information Minister Attaullah Tarar alleged that PTI spokespersons, purportedly receiving directives from incarcerated party members, are orchestrating a scheme to undermine Pakistan’s GSP+ status. He claimed that PTI’s criticism of the government’s treatment of its founder, Imran Khan, in prison serves as a pretext for their efforts to jeopardize the country’s trade privileges.

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Furthermore, Tarar accused PTI of engaging in a conspiracy to destabilize Pakistan’s economy, citing PTI’s alleged correspondence with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as evidence. He emphasized the incumbent government’s commitment to economic recovery and lambasted PTI for purportedly prioritizing political gain over national interests.

In response to Tarar’s claims, a PTI spokesperson categorically denied any intention of petitioning the EU to revoke Pakistan’s GSP+ status, dismissing the allegations as baseless and accusing Tarar of disseminating falsehoods. The spokesperson highlighted PTI’s dedication to national prosperity and defended Imran Khan’s role in facilitating the IMF program, attributing delays to the incompetence of previous administrations.

Pakistan has been benefiting from the GSP+ program since 2014. This initiative, devised by the EU, aims to incentivize developing countries to uphold human rights principles, labor rights, environmental conservation, and good governance through trade incentives, including reduced tariffs for exports to the EU market. However, this preferential status is contingent upon the country demonstrating significant progress in implementing 27 international conventions covering various rights and governance issues.

The EU meticulously monitors compliance with these conventions, relying on reports from the UN and other international bodies, and conducts regular assessments through on-ground missions. These evaluations are then reflected in reports to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, with biennial reviews conducted in 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2022. The latest review highlighted ongoing concerns regarding enforced disappearances and declining media freedom.

In October, the European Parliament extended Pakistan’s GSP+ status until 2027, allowing duty-free exports on 66 percent of product tariff lines to the European market.

However, the EU retains the authority to withdraw the GSP+ status if a beneficiary country fails to meet the program’s stringent criteria. This withdrawal process typically involves a period of dialogue aimed at rectification but may result in the suspension of benefits if issues are not adequately addressed, as evidenced by the case of Sri Lanka in 2010 over human rights concerns.

The European Parliament, in April 2021, adopted a resolution urging a review of Pakistan’s GSP+ status due to an “alarming” increase in blasphemy allegations and mounting attacks on journalists and civil society.

Read more: Understanding GSP+ status: What it means for Pakistan’s trade relations