Background

Six Democratic senators have asked U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer not to pursue a free trade agreement with the Philippines and possibly suspend its eligibility for duty-free treatment under the Generalized System of Preferences. The senators asserted that Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte “has overseen a regime of systemic and significant human rights violations” since his election in 2016, and they expressed concern that U.S. trade policy “could be mistaken for condoning” these violations.

In a Feb. 11 letter, the senators said a harsh assessment of the Philippines government’s failure to protect workers and labor leaders by the International Labor Organization raises questions about the country’s compliance with its obligations under GSP. They therefore urged USTR to conduct an out-of-cycle review of the Philippines’ compliance with these obligations. If that review finds labor rights violations, they said, USTR should quickly suspend the country’s benefits under GSP.

Although this request comes from Democratic lawmakers, it could well be acted on by the current Republican administration, which has taken a number of steps to suspend or eliminate countries from GSP eligibility. For example, India was terminated from GSP in June 2019 for failure to provide sufficient access to its markets, and Thailand will see about one-third of its exports removed from GSP eligibility in April due to its failure to adequately provide worker rights.

The senators also called on Lighthizer to “take all actions available” to him to ensure that U.S. trade policy limits further engagement with the Philippines until its human rights record has “vastly improved.” This would include opposing any FTA negotiations with the Duterte regime, they said. While there has never been a formal announcement that the two countries will pursue a bilateral FTA, press sources indicate that Manila has been actively advocating for such an agreement with U.S. officials.

For more information, please contact trade consultant Nicole Bivens Collinson at (202) 730-4956.

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