The European Parliament is all set to approve a textile agreement with Uzbekistan. This would lead to an increase in textiles imports from the country, despite ongoing concerns about the use of forced labour in cotton harvest. The pact will resolve the final missing element and also further lower tariffs on Uzbek textile imports.
The EU has 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 variably 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 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.
Human Rights Watch, a US-based campaign group, however, blames the Uzbek government of forcing more than 1 million adults to pick cotton at harvest time. Cotton accounts for around 17 per cent 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.