EU raises tariffs on Belarus in protest over rights violations


European Union governments approved trade sanctions on Belarus because of labor-rights violations, denying tariff benefits for €400 million ($529 million) of Belarusian exports including chemicals and textiles.

The EU suspended import-duty reductions for Belarus to protest infractions such as interference in trade unions. The former Soviet republic led by President Alexander Lukashenko is the second country - Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was the first - to face such a sanction. Belarus must „bring its labor standards up to international levels,” European Commission trade spokesman Peter Power said by telephone in Brussels, where ministers from the 25-nation EU endorsed the penalty today. The suspension is due to take effect in six months. The EU and the US label Lukashenko a „dictator” and are working in parallel to isolate his government. They already impose travel curbs and financial sanctions on leaders of the country, which has 10 million people and is located between Poland and Russia. In power since 1994, Lukashenko won re-election in a March vote that international observers called unfair. Russia congratulated Lukashenko on his re-election and rejected western demands for regime change.

Belarus gets tariff reductions for about 12% of its €3.3 billion of annual exports to the EU under the bloc's Generalized System of Preferences. The EU is suspending the GSP for the country because the government failed to comply with recommendations by the International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency that promotes employment rights and social justice. The suspension will raise tariffs on EU imports of goods from Belarus because the bloc applies higher duties on products that come from nations without trade preferences. Chemicals accounted last year for 6.9% of EU imports from Belarus and textiles and clothing for 5.4%. Other Belarusian exports to face higher EU levies include wood, rubber, glass, ceramics and cement, says the commission, the EU's executive arm. The suspension will have no impact on EU tariffs on energy products such as fuels and lubricants that last year represented 56% of the bloc's imports from Belarus, according to the commission. This is because the EU applies a zero duty on these products, the commission said. The EU's approval of the trade sanctions against Belarus comes more than a year after the commission recommended the step. (Bloomberg)

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