Sunday

15th Dec 2019

Belarus joins Burma as EU trade outcast

Belarus at midnight on Thursday (21 June) became the second ever country to be kicked off the EU's 36-year old "GSP" trade scheme, but some EU states believe the move is ill-judged.

The suspension of Belarus from the 1971 Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) on trade will see extra tariffs of up to 3 percentage points imposed on imports to the EU of products such as forestry and textile goods.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The move comes after the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation (ILO) said Minsk had fulfilled just four of 12 necessary pro-trade union reforms, with the extra tariffs set to cost the country around €400 million a year.

Asian dictatorship Burma in 1997 was the only other country ever to have faced GSP sanctions, despite the fact that other GSP beneficiaries - such as Uzbekistan - have worse workers' rights records than Belarus.

The GSP suspension is reversible, but it is much harder to get back into the system than to stay in: the months-long process would involve a new ILO report, a new European Commission recommendation and a new EU state decision.

Minsk in a statement said the "short-sighted step taken by the EU towards its immediate neighbour affects in the first place the interests of ordinary Belarusian citizens" and called for the EU to "reverse it immediately."

Belarus has also queried Brussels' claim the decision was a purely "technical" process based on ILO compliance. "It was a political decision - the ILO said we made progress, but this was not taken into account," a diplomat said.

The position has been echoed by Belarus' EU neighbours, Latvia, Poland and Lithuania, who had fought the move at EU-level, saying the Belarusian nomenklatura's income comes from arms and energy sales - not covered by GSP.

An EU official said that close personal ties between senior ILO and EU officials have helped Brussels get the kind of ILO reports it wants, with other issues such as political prisoners also impacting the reading of ILO texts.

"It's well known that if they had released all the political prisoners, things would have been different," the EU contact said.

First millionaire

Ordinary Belarusians live on $170 a month. But Polish daily Dziennik reports the country's tax authorities this week saw an unnamed Belarus citizen post an income of $9 million - the first official millionaire in the country's history.

The US state department believes that president Aleksander Lukashenko has skimmed off a personal fortune of over $1 billion, part of which had been stashed in Serbia but is now kept in unknown locations.

Another Polish paper, Rzeczpospolita, writes that senior Belarus official Viktor Sheiman could be posted to Venezuela in order to transfer Lukashenko's fortune to Caracas, should the Belarusian president one day seek asylum.

"Our number one interest in Venezuela is in the energy sector," the Belarusian diplomat said, calling the Rzeczpospolita article "fantastic speculation."

Guns blaze in Ukraine as leaders meet in Paris

Hundreds of explosions and bursts of small arms fire were reported on the contact line in east Ukraine, as France prepares to host the first peace summit on the war in three years.

Feature

Russia makes big promises to Arctic peoples on expansion

The Arctic future conference kicked off with optimistic presentations by ministers and officials of the Russian government — but also a burst of scepticism from representatives of those actually living in Russia's Arctic and Far East regions.

Macron spars with US and Turkey over Nato

French president Emmanuel Macron clashed with US president Donald Trump and Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Nato, as the future of the alliance begins to fray following Ankara's invasion into north-east Syria in October.

News in Brief

  1. EU Scream podcast wins media award
  2. Sturgeon will set out Scottish independence plan next week
  3. Slovenia, Croatia ex-leaders highlight jailed Catalans
  4. Italian court tells Facebook to reopen fascist party's account
  5. EU extends sanctions on Russia until mid-2020
  6. UK exit poll gives Johnson majority of 86
  7. Orban: 'financial guarantees' to reach climate neutrality
  8. Merkel hopes EU leaders agree 2050 climate-neutrality

Magazine

EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. EU values face scrutiny This WEEK
  2. EU sighs relief after 'decisive' Johnson victory in UK
  3. Huge win for Conservatives in UK election
  4. Behind bars: a visit to an imprisoned Catalan politician
  5. Leaders agree 2050 climate neutrality - without Poland
  6. EU leaders cagey on 'Future of Europe' conference
  7. Pressure mounts to grill Malta's Muscat at EU summit
  8. Revealed: little evidence to justify internal border checks

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us