STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The Swedish parliament has recommended cutting arms exports to undemocratic countries, part of a push to prioritise human rights in its foreign policy that has already irked Israel and many Arab countries.
Sweden is the world’s 12th biggest arms exporter, with arms companies like SAAB responsible for thousands of jobs. Sweden, though proud of its neutral status, exported arms worth 11.9 billion Swedish crowns ($1.44 billion) to 55 countries in 2013.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven’s centre-left government has emphasised the promotion of human rights and feminism in its foreign policy, sparking criticism that Sweden is hurting its local industry while ignoring growing threats such as Russia.
“A country’s democratic status will be a central condition for an export permit,” committee chairman Hans Wallmark told a news conference while presenting a report that has been three years in the making.
Wallmark said Sweden would be the first country in the world to introduce specific democratic criteria when exporting weapons, judging each country on the basis of its democratic institutions and its civil and political rights.
Human rights are already a factor in Swedish arms sales policy but the committee said the current arrangements were too weak and that the country needed a law that was clearer and more systematically applied.
In March, Stockholm cancelled a defence agreement with Saudi Arabia worth billions of crowns to its industry after Swedish criticism of Riyadh’s human rights record sparked a diplomatic row.
The Lofven government also made headlines last year by recognising Palestine as an independent state, sparking heavy criticism from Israel.
The government will present a proposal for a new weapon export law within a year and is likely to follow the committee’s recommendations.
“This means that the potential markets for Swedish defence industry will diminish,” said Lena Hjelm-Wallen, deputy committee chairman and a former minister of foreign affairs.
“That is the price we’ll have to pay”.
(Reporting by Johan Sennero; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Gareth Jones)