Pakistan’s export performance data and progress by the World Bank indicates that the country’s exports have reached around $35 billion, showing a 24% increase compared to that of 2020 (Macrotrends 2022). Pakistan’s Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) have, over time, reduced barriers to the export-led growth. For instance, China allows Pakistan a tariff-free access to its market. Also, EU’s GSP+ (Generalized System of Preferences) status allows duty and quota free market access to maximum exports from Pakistan. The EU has remained the top export destination for Pakistan’s textile industry. In 2020, 75% of total exports made to EU were from Pakistan’s textile and clothing industry (European Commission 2022a). Pakistan’s exports growth to the EU has increased from around 26% in 2007-2013 to 47% in 2014-2021. However, considering a period of 9 years, the growth rate shows a comparatively slower pace.
Pakistan’s export market is heavily reliant on its textiles while the stability of textile industry’s exports is majorly reliant upon free access to the global market such as that of the EU. Thus Pakistan needs to enhance its eligibility under the EU’s GSP+ preferential status and utilize it effectively to make its export-led growth steady as well as to stay in line with other regional competitors including Bangladesh. GSP+ status is crucial for Pakistan to achieve a stable economic growth as in the absence of this status, “country would have to face an MFN Tariff of a maximum of 12% for most traded commodities under GSP+ and would also be paying an anti-dumping duty of 13% to the EU on cotton bed linen”. The status has also supported Pakistan to enhance its capabilities to grow in a sustainable manner, diversify its economy and create employment opportunities. It also accelerated Pakistan’s efforts in improving compliance to major human and labor rights and environment and good governance related international conventions.
The EU awarded Pakistan the GSP+ status in 2014 and Pakistan, fortunately, became the largest beneficiary of GSP+ among all other awardee countries (European Commission 2022b). This status will end in December 2023 and its continuation is highly reliant upon a strong implementation of the 27 mandatory international conventions related to environmental and social compliance along with the treaties to be newly added. Therefore, Pakistan needs to accelerate its current efforts to fulfil the requirements of these conventions in all its sectors, including the textile industry.
Pakistan has ratified all the compulsory international agreements required for the GSP+ renewal. These treaties fall under four categories: Human rights, labour rights, environment and climate change and good governance.
Compliance to the human rights conventions
Pakistan has shown significant progress towards compliance to the human rights conventions. The country’s constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The penal code prohibits criminal use of force and assault. The constitution orders free and compulsory education for all children aged 5 to 16, regardless of their nationality. Also, government authorities support NGOs/INGOs work to ensure safety of IDPs. Pakistan has also shown progress to human rights by proposing Protection of Journalists Bill 2021 and became the first country in South Asia to launch National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. The Government also launched Ehsaas Programme in 2019 supported by the World Bank that aimed to develop a resilient social protection system via emergency cash initiative.
Women’s rights have gained considerate attention over past years. Rape is considered criminal offence. The following major initiatives took place to safeguard women’s rights in the country: Implementation of Women’s Protection Act, the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act, designation of special courts countrywide to have an exclusive focus on gender-based violence, the KPK Domestic Violence Against Women Act 2021, introduction of cellphone apps to enable women to contact police, increase in research initiatives by the foundations on gender-based violence, operation of Crisis Center for Women in Distress by the government, Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights (Amendment) Bill 2021, Punjab government funding women’s career centers and crisis centers that provide legal and psychological services to women and emergency shelters for women and children, initiation of economic empowerment programmes such as Kisan Ki Beti Project to enhance skill development of rural women, financially empowering women via initiatives such as Ehsaas Kafaalat Programme, appointment of first female chief justice in the High Court and increasing awareness via peace marches such as Aurat March. Sindh Assembly, in support of women’s empowerment to work in nights shifts at factories under better work conditions, passed the Sindh Factories (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and the Sindh Shops and Commercial Establishment (Amendment) Bill 2021. Both bills made the employers accountable to provide safe workplaces with better facilities including transportation for women working beyond 7pm.
Minorities, other races and ethnicities
Racial and ethnic violence and discrimination is highly discouraged in all the sectors. According to Pakistan’s constitution, all citizens are entitled to equal protection before law and minorities shall be given freedom to practice their religions and cultures. The constitution also discourages racial, sectarian or tribal discrimination. Moreover, some of the initiatives at the country level that have ensured minority rights include the 2017 Hindu Marriage Law and the KPK Rehabilitation of Minorities Endowment Fund Act 2020.
Regarding children’s rights, the constitutional mandates have made education compulsory and free for the children aged 5 to 16, regardless of any nationality. Moreover, successive governments have taken multiple initiatives to protect children. For instance, both boys and girls have access to the government medical care facilities. Sindh provincial assembly has passed the Child Protection Authority Amendment Act 2021 to take strict action against child abusers. Child protection courts were inaugurated by the Peshawar High Court in KPK. The KPK government built hundreds of schools to educate internally displaced children deprived of education. The legislative progress includes launch of National Action Plan on Child Abuse and launch of National Child Labor Survey. Lastly, agencies were established to track child abuse and in response to the Zainab abuse case, the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Bill 2019 was approved.
Persons with disabilities
The law supports equal rights for persons with disabilities and the responsibility of protecting their rights is given to the provincial special education and social welfare offices. There are departments or offices legally responsible to address educational needs of disable persons in each province in Pakistan. Pakistan also supports employment quotas at federal and provincial levels in public and private organizations to reserve 2% of jobs for persons with disabilities. Moreover, the National Council for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled had job and loan facilities for the disable.
oriented and gender identities
Pakistan has taken certain positive measures under UN Human Rights Conventions, to ensure rights of other gender identifies. Regarding transgender rights, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018 was incorporated and the government of Sindh, in 2019, announced that it would provide 0.5% of office jobs in Sindh police force to the transgender community. The KPK province has also shown effective improvement regarding transgender rights. For instance, transgender prisoners are held separately to improve prison situation. There are dedicated intake desks for transgender persons in KPK police stations and transgender rights education is added to police training courses. Transgender sensitization trainings are also held for police officers in Punjab and Islamabad. Lastly, a Supreme Court ruling allows transgender community to obtain national ID cards.
Compliance to the labour rights conventions
After 18th Amendment, most of the labor force in Pakistan is under authority of provincial labor laws. In Pakistan, the government collaborates with the labor NGOs to assist workers regarding capacity building, support establishment of labour unions to organize workers, advocate for the wellbeing of workers and to support workers get access to citizenship benefits. Moreover, the ministries in KPK, Punjab and Sindh worked to register brick kiln workers to enhance their access to labour courts and other services as well as to regulate the industry efficiently. Also, the government of Punjab supported Elimination of Child Labor and Bonded Labor Project to overcome child and bonded labor in brick kilns. Under this project, the workers were supported to obtain national IDs and interest-free loans as well as schools were established at brick kiln sites. The government of Pakistan has also signed an MOU with ILO and launched Better Work Programme to achieve decent work standards, especially in the export-oriented textiles and apparel sector, supporting the sector in improving labour conditions and enabling greater freedom of association.
Regarding prohibition of child labour and forced labor, in 2020, Pakistan’s federal government amended Child Protection Act 1991 and prohibited child domestic and other hazardous labor. Pakistan’s constitution prohibits employing children younger than 15 in any factory, mine or other hazardous sites. Moreover, some of the provinces such as KPK have set minimum age for hazardous work to be 18 which meets the international standards of minimum age for employment. Moving on, Baluchistan passed the Balochistan Forced and Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Bill in 2021 to prohibit forced and bonded labour as well as the Balochistan Employment of Children Prohibition and Regulation Act to protect children from hazardous working conditions. The legislative progress also includes launch of the National Action Plan on Child Abuse, launch of the National Child Labor Survey and Punjab’s the Restriction on Employment of Children Act.
Compliance to the rights to acceptable working conditions has also received strong attention. KPK raised minimum wage standards and mandated women and transgender workers to receive equal remuneration. According to the law, maximum workweek hours are 48 with rest periods and paid annual leaves. Overtime pay, sick leaves, health care, social security and education for worker’s children are other basic facilities required to be ensured. In 2019, rights of women working in farming, livestock and fisheries were recognized via Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act, ensuring their minimum wages, sick and maternity leaves, accurate working hours and right to collective bargaining and social security.
Compliance to the conventions related to environment and climate change
Environment and climate change have received extensive devotion in Pakistan. One of the biggest accomplishments was an effective control on wildlife trafficking and raise awareness among communities regarding illegal wildlife trafficking and sustainable trophy hunting. The main stakeholders include Pakistan Customs as well as other bodies such as Ministry of Climate Change who supported relevant organizations through capacity building. Also, a system of permits was established to transport rare animal species abroad and regular monitoring takes place at the airport. Lastly, law enforcement agencies were trained by WWF regarding illegal wildlife trade.
Pakistan has endorsed hazardous waste and chemicals-related UN conventions such as Basel and Stockholm Convention. The Ministry of Climate Change has recently published National Hazardous Waste Management Policy and EPAs are responsible to monitor national environmental quality standards and regulate effluent release and pollution-oriented manufacturing in the industries.Shahid Sattar and Noreen Akhtar, "Environmental sustainability under EU’s GSP+ – I," Business recorder. 2022-11-14.
Keywords: Economics , World Bank , Exports growth , Health care , Social security , Pakistan , Bangladesh , KPK , WWF , UN