The European Union (EU) has announced it plans to impose an annual EUR400m (US$529m) of trade sanctions on Belarusian exports from mid-2007 because of the country's poor record for human rights, and, more specifically, worker rights.

Belarus, an ex-Soviet country, would be only the second country to be subjected to such a sanction - the first being Myanmar (previously known as Burma).

A statement from EU executive body the European Commission explained it was planning to stop trade concessions because of Belarus' "serious and systematic violations of core labour rights".

The violations - uncovered during an official inquiry - include flouting the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

The decision will mean tariffs on exports such as textiles and wood unless Belarus shows it has done enough to turn things around by next June.

The country has been given six months to address the issues highlighted in order to hold onto its System of Preferences (GSP) preferential market access to the EU.
At the moment, the country enjoys reduced GSP tariffs on 12.3% of its exports to EU markets.

Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Greece and Cyprus have all joined Belarus in voicing concerns over the plan, which they argue could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. Critics have also suggested Belarus has already made progress in improving its human rights record.