UK to offer ‘enhanced’ trade status to Assad-ruled Syria, sparking outcry

UK to offer ‘enhanced’ trade status to Assad-ruled Syria, sparking outcry
The UK has announced plans to grant “enhanced” trading status to Assad-ruled Syria under a new post-Brexit scheme, sparking condemnation from human rights groups.
2 min read
18 August, 2022
The UK government waived human rights requirements before announcing the scheme [Getty]

The UK’s Department for International Trade has announced plans to grant “enhanced” trading status to Assad-ruled Syria, which is currently under EU and US sanctions.

Under a new post-Brexit “Developing Countries Trading Scheme”, the department said that it would give improved terms of trade to eight developing countries, including Syria, even though the ruling Assad regime is accused of committing war crimes and serious violations of human rights.

Under original plans, developing countries that wanted to take advantage of “enhanced preferences” offered by the scheme had to obey 27 international conventions covering issues such as racism, sexism, forced labour, and corruption.

However UK ministers have abandoned that requirement, saying that only a country’s “economic vulnerability” should be taken into account.

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The other seven countries due to benefit from the “enhanced preferences” are Algeria, Congo, the Cook Islands, Micronesia, Nigeria, Niue, and Tajikistan.

One of the objectives of the plan is to tackle the UK’s cost of living crisis by opening up the country to international trade.

However, the plan was condemned by human rights activists and opposition politicians in the UK.

Amnesty International’s UK crisis manager, Kristyan Benedict said, “Assad has turned Syria into a slaughterhouse of barrel bombing, mass torture and state abduction, and it would be an absolute travesty if any individual or business implicated in Assad’s atrocities were to be the beneficiary of these new trading arrangements.”

The Labour Party’s Emily Thornberry told the iNews media outlet: “Sadly, this is exactly what we have come to expect from a Government that treats human rights and international law as an irrelevance.”

The UK government, however, defended the scheme saying that “robust sanctions” meant that the Assad regime could not benefit from the “enhanced preferences” status.

More than 500,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, which began in 2011 when the regime of President Bashar al-Assad brutally suppressed peaceful pro-democracy protests.

The Assad regime has indiscriminately bombed civilian areas, used chemical weapons, and committed massacres throughout the conflict and arrested, tortured, and executed political opponents.