Tory ministers have offered “enhanced” trade status to Syria – whose regime has long been accused of war crimes.
A new post-Brexit Developing Countries Trading Scheme will offer 65 nations lower tariffs and simpler rules to ship to the UK from next year.
Originally, countries that wanted “enhanced preferences” in the scheme would have to sign and obey 27 international conventions.
They include issues such as racism, sexism, forced and child labour, torture, and corruption.
But ministers have now “rejected” that requirement, instead basing the decision on a country’s “economic vulnerability”.
The UK government defended the change, insisting Syria was already subject to “robust sanctions” that would ensure the regime didn’t benefit.
Changes mean eight more nations will become eligible for “enhanced preferences” – Algeria, Congo, Cook Islands, Micronesia, Nigeria, Niue, Tajikistan, and Syria.
Labour’s Emily Thornberry, who voiced concerns over the changes when she was Shadow Trade Secretary last year, said: “Sadly, this is exactly what we have come to expect from a government that treats human rights and international law as an irrelevance.”
Syria has suffered a brutal decade-long civil war that the United Nations says has killed more than 350,000 fighters and civilians.
A UN inquiry in 2013 found “massive evidence” President Bashar Al-Assad was implicated in war crimes.
Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty International UK’s Crisis Response Manager, said: “Assad has turned Syria into a slaughterhouse of barrel bombing, mass torture and state abduction.
“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.”
War-torn Syria has about £3m a year of trade with the UK, a tiny amount in global terms.
A UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK already has robust sanctions on the Syrian regime.
“These sanctions should ensure that where trade does change it will not benefit those who support or profit from the existing regime.”