The European Parliament looks set to approve textile agreement with Uzbekistan on Wednesday that would lead to increased textiles imports from the country despite ongoing concern over the use of forced labour in the cotton harvest. The pact will resolves the final missing element and also further lower tariffs on Uzbek textile imports.
The EU had a free trade agreement with Uzbekistan for everything since 1999 except textiles, as it was a sensitive issue in Europe. But since then, textiles have become less and less sensitive because they have less of a textile industry. And so it is no longer sensible to exclude textiles.
Even with absence of an agreement, Uzbek textiles flow easily into Europe because of low tariffs, with the category second only to chemical products in EU imports from Uzbekistan, at 38 million euros ($40.35 million) last year. The EU is nearly tied with Kazakhstan as Uzbekistan's third-largest trade partner, behind China and Russia. Bilateral trade last year totaled almost 2 billion euros.
Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based campaign group, however accuses the Uzbek government of forcing more than 1 million adults to pick cotton at harvest time. Cotton accounts for around 17% of the country's exports and according to trade group Cotton Inc., the country is world's fifth-largest exporter of the fiber.
Human Rights Watch and other groups successfully lobbied opposition in the European Parliament to the Uzbek textile agreement ahead of a planned vote in 2011 over the use of child labor in the cotton harvest, with parliamentarians then voting 603-8 against moving forward.
Uzbekistan subsequently moved to address the complaints and allowed the International Labor Organization in to observe the harvest for the first
time in 2013. By 2015, the ILO had concluded that child labor had become "rare, sporadic and socially unacceptable."
The EU-Uzbekistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that has been in place for 17 years, making each side a most favored nation for the other.
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