What is more, traders can use the helpdesk to tell EU importers of the products they have. They can also ask EU experts for help with specific problems and contact directly the customs authorities of individual EU countries, as well as EU importers associations and organisations involved in promoting imports from developing countries.
The service is free: it is being made available to exporters in all developing countries by the EU trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy. Even though the EUs imports under its GSP schemes are three times higher than those of the US (they came to well over $50 billion in 2002), Lamy believes exporters are not making full use of the benefits available to them.
The helpdesk is designed to give practical help to expor-ters, using the cheapest and most readily available form of communication, Lamy said when launching the service earlier this week. Lamy, who was recently in New Delhi, Dhaka and Jakarta, said the service is based on my talks with exporters in developing countries.
The helpdesk is the good news for Indian exporters. But there is also alarming news for exporters relying on GSP schemes to boost exports to the EU. Indian exporters are among the leading GSP beneficiaries. They accounted for 11.5 per cent of the EUs total GSP imports in 2002 well behind China, with 33 per cent.
But should the EU grant preferential access to its market to countries like India and China A leading European economist believes the time has come to scrap the GSP. He is Andre Sapir, a specialist in international trade, a onetime expert on EU-India trade and at present economic adviser to Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, the EUs executive arm.
The EU introduced its GSP scheme for all developing countries in 1971. The aim was to help these countries industrialise, by granting them preferential access to the markets of the developed countries. One of the foremost advocates of the GSP during the 1960s, in both GATT and UNCTAD, was K B Lall, Indias first ambassador to the then six-nation European Economic Community.
The fact that the leading GSP beneficiaries are India, China and Indonesia suggests that they are well and truly established as emerging industrial powers, and can therefore dispense with the GSP. Lamy believes these countries should grant GSP benefits to developing countries that are still struggling to industrialise. For Prof Sapir (he lectures at the Unive-rsity of Brussels), the GSP shou-ld be replaced by free trade agreements. This was the solution favoured by another Indi-an ambassador to the EU, Arjun Sengupta, some 20 years ago!
The EU has already concluded bilateral and regional preferential trade agreements with South Africa, Chile and Mexico, on the one hand and Mediterranean and Balkan countries on the other.It is currently negotiating a free trade agreement with the Mercosur group, that includes Argentina and Brazil.
Indeed, the EUs most comprehensive GSP scheme is already under threat, so to speak. This is the scheme under which the EU has been granting GSP benefits, for some 30 years, to the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries that have been linked to it through the Lome, and now Cotonou, agreements.
Lamy is currently in Mauritius, to open negotiations with 16 of these 77 ACP countries for an Economic and Partnership Agreement (EPA). The 16, which include Ethio-pia, Kenya, Mauritius, Zamba and Zimbabwe, belong to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. These talks will be extended to the Caribbean and Pacific members of the Cotonou agreement.
Lamy seems to be implementing Prof Sapirs suggestion that GSP schemes be replaced by free trade agreements, but without eliminating the existing GSP schemes. On the contrary, the current sche-me, covering 178 developing countries, including India and China, will be replaced in two years time with a scheme valid for a further 10-year period.
The online helpdesk may include details on GSP utilisation also.