President Abdulla Yameen’s claim that the European Union had revoked duty-free status for Maldives tuna over the country’s failure to implement freedom of religion and homosexual rights is “inaccurate,” a European Union official has said.
Paul Godfrey, the head of political, trade and communications section at the EU delegation to Maldives, said: “Very simply, the GSP and GSP+ scheme only apply to low and lower-middle income countries, as defined by the World Bank.
“The Maldives is now an upper middle income country and could not benefit from the scheme even if its respect for human rights was akin to New Zealand or Norway.”
The Generalised Scheme of Preferences offers generous tariff reductions to developing countries, which means partial or entire removal of tariffs on two thirds of all product categories.
The GSP+ scheme offers full removal of tariffs to developing countries that ratify and implement core international conventions relating to human and labour rights, environment and good governance.
The Maldives, which graduated from a least developed country in 2011, had its GSP tariff reductions revoked in 2013.
At the time, the Maldives exported some 40 percent of its US$100million fishing industry to the EU, its single largest export partner by value.
Then-Fisheries Minister Ahmed Shafeeu said the government’s application for a year’s extension was refused as it had not ratified all 27 required international conventions. His successor, Mohamed Shainee, said the same in 2014.
Yameen, who is facing pressure over the jailing of his opponents and a crackdown on democracy, said last week: “Because we are Muslims, we are not able to accept all the individual freedoms, that is certain. We get penalised for these things, too. We get penalised for the fish we export too. And the dead fish in tins, there don’t have any rights. They don’t commit crimes either. But even the canned fish are getting punished, because there aren’t some specific rights in the Maldives.
“For example, because we don’t have rights like same sex marriage. Because people don’t have the right to behave however they want. Because people can’t practice whatever religion they want.
“If that is the case, it is not the people of the country who get punished. But the fishermen. As Siyam said, we have been deprived of duty-free status for fish imports to the EU. Even so, we cannot let go of this. Since we are Muslims, we remain steadfast on our principles. So we have no issue with the extent to which canned fish is being punished. We do not want to slip from our faith.”
MP Ahmed ‘Sun’ Siyam, the leader of Maldives Development Alliance, an ally of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives, meanwhile blamed members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, living in exile in Europe, for the loss of the GSP scheme.
The EU parliament had passed a non-binding resolution in December urging member states to impose targeted sanctions on government officials responsible for human rights abuses.
Godfrey reiterated the EU’s commitment to furthering universal human rights in the Maldives.
The EU “will continue to raise fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of belief with the Maldivian authorities,” he added.
Last month, the Marine Stewardship Council, an international non-profit organisation that certifies sustainable fisheries products, suspended its eco-label for the yellowfin component of the Maldives yellowfin tuna fishery.
The suspension was based on by an assessment of yellowfin tuna stocks by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission’s scientific committee, which “showed significant declines as a result of over-fishing and relatively low reproduction levels.”