The Philippines recently drew attention in the European Union (EU) for an unpleasant reason.
The European Parliament, which consists of elected representatives of the 27 member-countries of the EU, voted overwhelmingly to adopt a resolution to withdraw the Philippines’ tariff-free privileges under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) if it did not comply with the international convention on human rights.
The EU criticized the Duterte administration for its bloody crackdown on dangerous drugs that has led to extrajudicial killings, the continuing corruption in government and its threats against press freedom.
Under GSP+, more than 6,000 Philippine products, e.g., pineapples, mangoes, tuna, footwear and coffee, exported to the EU are exempt from tariff.
With no tax or duty imposed on those products, they become less expensive compared to similar products that do not enjoy that privilege.
In a fit of braggadocio, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque made light of the resolution and dared the EU to make good its threat.
This act of bravado did not sit well with Associated Labor Union (ALU), a labor federation that represents more than 200,000 unionized workers in various companies.
An ALU official said the removal of the tariff privilege would result in “more unemployment and loss of business opportunities.”
That apprehension is based on solid ground. Since the government imposed in March a lockdown on various parts of the country to contain the spread of COVID-19, millions of Filipinos have already lost their jobs.
To aggravate matters, thousands of overseas Filipino workers have been forced to return to the country because of the closure of the businesses of their foreign employers.
And add to the ranks of the unemployed the 200,000 or so recent college graduates who will search for jobs or livelihood in an economy in recession.
In light of the Philippines’ serious economic condition and worrisome unemployment problem, pooh-poohing or minimizing the EU threat was a grievous mistake.
A forceful response to the EU resolution could have been made without sounding arrogant or belligerent. Roque’s statement made worse an already problematic situation.
It is foolhardy to assume the resolution was all talk and that the EU will not push through with its threat to make Philippine exports less competitive in the EU market.
It can and it has taken similar actions before. The EU imposed financial and nonfinancial sanctions on, among others, China, Russia and Myanmar, for alleged violation of human rights and commission of unlawful acts on their citizens.
Whether or not the sanctions produced their intended results is a different story, but the fact remains the EU can, if it wants to, follow through on its sanction threats.
Bear in mind the Philippines needs the EU more than the EU needs the Philippines.
Citing data from the Department of Trade and Industry, ALU said since that trading privilege was granted in 2014, Philippine exports have increased by 35 percent and created 200,000 more jobs.
In case (knock on wood) the EU makes good its threat, where will the displaced workers, majority of whom are in the rural areas, go to find a living considering the dismal state of our economy?
The New People’s Army would probably be happy to recruit them into its fold.
Perish the thought the EU would be hesitant to remove the tariff privilege because it cannot do without Philippine exports. Those products can be easily supplied by Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
There is a lesson to be learned from this incident: There is no room for amateurs in the management of international issues. Leave it to the seasoned diplomats of the Department of Foreign Affairs to handle. They know how to express displeasure without sounding unpleasant.
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