( RIA Novosti ) - The European Union has made a decision to remove Belarus from the so-called Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) over violations of workers rights, an EU spokesman reported.
"The ILO [International Labor Organization] adopted [June 15] its assessment that Belarus has not acted to ensure the protection of certain key labor rights related to freedom of association in Belarus. Belarus' GSP trade preferences will be therefore withdrawn from 21 June 2007," the EU said on its Web site.
The EU Council of Ministers agreed in December 2006 to "a withdrawal of GSP privileges from Belarus with the condition that Belarus would have six further months to implement its ILO obligations."
In 2003 Belarusian independent trade unions submitted a complaint about the violations of trade union rights to the ILO. Experts say Belarus could lose $100 million to $300 million annually once removed.
In 2005 Belarusian exports to the EU reached some $7 billion, including almost $3 billion of supplies with EU tariff preferences, which cover mostly Belarusian mineral fertilizers, textiles, clothes, and timber.
However, the EU said that the removal of tariff preferences would not halt Belarus' exports to the EU, as the organization would reinstate the standard tariffs, which are 3% higher than GSP tariffs. "The withdrawal will affect around 10% of Belarus exports," the EU said in a press release.
In response to the EU warning last December the Belarusian foreign ministry accused the organization of hypocrisy and said the decision was "in a complete discord with the positive dialogue maintained by the Government of Belarus with International Labor Organization."
International human rights groups have repeatedly voiced concerns over democratic processes in Belarus, after President Alexander Lukashenko took office for a third time in elections described as fraudulent by the United States and Europe.
Last year, the U.S. and the then-25 member EU also imposed an entry ban on Lukashenko, dubbed by Washington as " Europe's last dictator," and other top Belarusian officials following Lukashenko's landslide victory in a presidential election last March.