EU and Myanmar holding talks on human rights, EBA in the crosshair

The European Union and Myanmar hold their 6th Human Rights Dialogue on October 14th, stated a joint press release made public by the European External Action Service (EEAS).

The meeting, held by video-conference due to the COVID-19 related disruption, allowed the EU and Myanmar to discuss human rights issues. This discussion was also in the context of the ongoing enhanced engagement under EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) trade arrangement, which provided Myanmar preferential imports worth over EUR 2.7 billion in 2019.

According to the release, Myanmar and the EU discussed a wide range of human rights matters, including “the situation in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States, humanitarian access and the situation of Internally Displaced Persons, accountability for alleged human rights violations, fundamental rights and freedoms, economic, labour and social rights, rights of women and human rights cooperation in multilateral fora”.

The EU reaffirmed its “strong support for Myanmar’s democratic transition”, notably in the context of Myanmar’s upcoming general election, as well as for its “peace and reconciliation process and inclusive socio-economic development.”

Though supporting Myanmar’s democratic’s transition, it’s hard not to see the threat of EBA withdrawal looming over these talks. The Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative is a unilateral tariff preferential treatment offered by the EU to least developed economies with the aim of helping them develop their economy and reduce poverty.

The EU already withdrew the EBA benefits from Cambodia, another ASEAN member, earlier this year, which was quick to point out unfair treatment and a double-standard policy by ignoring human-rights issues in other countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines or Myanmar.

EU’s EBA withdrawal would be another blow to Myanmar’s international image, would negatively impact its exports, and more importantly would impact the livelihoods of hundred of thousands workers specially in the garment industry.

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