The Political Economy of the EU Approach to the Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

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The Political Economy of the EU Approach to the Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar


  • Arlo Poletti Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Trento, Italy
  • Daniela Sicurelli Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Trento, Italy


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Abstract:  European institutions have repeatedly represented the EU as an actor that can use the attractiveness of its market to promote human rights internationally. From this perspective, EU trade sanctions represent a hard power tool to push the government of states accused of major human rights violations to abide by international law. In its reaction to the Rohingya crisis in 2018, despite the European Parliament’s call for the lifting of Myanmar’s trade preferences, the Council of the EU stated that it would rather tackle the problem by taking a “constructive approach” based on dialogue. We provide a political-economy explanation of this choice, making a plausible case that the political pressures from European importers and exporters, not to jeopardise trade relations with Myanmar, prevailed over the demands of European protectionist groups and NGOs advocating a tougher position. The firms interested in maintaining preferential trade relations with Myanmar were primarily motivated by a desire to avoid a disruption of trade and investment links within global value chains (GVCs) so that they could continue competing with Chinese enterprises.

Keywords:  European Union; generalised system of preferences; human rights; Myanmar; sanctions; trade

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v10i1.4678


© Arlo Poletti, Daniela Sicurelli. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.