EU to keep SL’s trade concessions
The European Union is likely to let Sri Lanka keep a trade concession crucial to its apparel industry, while recommending it be revoked if the country does not improve its human rights record, diplomats said on Tuesday. The European Commission by mid-October is due to decide whether to recommend the Indian Ocean island nation retain the Generalised System of Preferences Plus (GSP Plus) trade concession, which would then be voted upon by the EU Council.
“It is likely to be extended with a negative recommendation,” a diplomat briefed on the EU’s internal discussions told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “There would then be some targets for Sri Lanka to meet.”
GSP Plus gives Sri Lanka the right to export more than 7,200 products duty-free to the EU, which last year accounted for 36 percent of Sri Lanka’s $8.1 billion in total exports.
Lat year, Sri Lanka’s garment and textile industry earned $3.5 billion in total, 43 percent of which came from EU markets.
The EU decision will be the culmination of a year-long rights probe launched in October, when the government was fighting to crush the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and win a 25-year war. Sri Lanka declared total victory in mid-May.
The government refused to cooperate with the probe or let the EU-contracted investigators enter the country, and said doing so was tantamount to betraying its sovereignty.
Since July 2008, the EU has warned Sri Lanka may not meet the human rights standards required to retain GSP Plus, mainly because of allegations security forces either carried out or failed to crack down on abductions and killings during the war.
Sri Lanka has been wary of criticism from Western nations, particularly those with large Tamil populations that supported the LTTE, and flatly rejected any interference or criticism as it battled to finish off the Tigers over the past year.
They were billed as “garments without guilt” — cheap, good-quality lingerie, casual clothes and sportswear made in Sri Lanka and sold in stores such as Next, Tesco and Marks & Spencer.
For the past four years, such clothes worth billions of pounds have been imported, tax-free, to the European Union under a trade scheme intended to help Sri Lanka’s recovery from the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
Within months, however, clothes from the country could disappear from British shops.
Although conditions in Sri Lanka’s factories are beyond reproach, the EU looks set to punish the Government’s alleged human rights abuses in the recent civil war by withdrawing the trade benefits.