Sri Lanka has regained a lucrative EU trade concession it lost over concerns about human rights, mainly benefiting its garments export industry, but it will be subject to vigorous monitoring, the European Union said on Tuesday (16/05). (Reuters Photo/Dinuka Liyanawatte)

Return of Trade Concession Depends on Sri Lankan Govt Action: EU Parliament


NOVEMBER 02, 2016

Colombo. Sri Lanka's chances of regaining a lucrative European Union trade concession, mainly for its garments exports, depends on it fulfilling a raft of international laws and amending a proposed tough new terrorism act, a EU parliament delegation said on Tuesday (01/11).

The South Asian island nation lost the concession six years ago because of its failure to address human rights concerns.

The 6-7 percent concession offered by the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) Plus had brought substantial benefit to the garment industry, Sri Lanka's second biggest foreign exchange earner after remittances.

Jean Lambert, head of a four-member European parliament delegation, said discussions had turned around Sri Lanka's present prevention of terrorism act and whether it met international standards.

"This is not something decided government to government. We hope it will be a 'Yes' vote, but it depends on Sri Lanka meeting the criteria," she told reporters in Colombo.

Sri Lanka is considering a new counter terrorism act, tougher than the current one, say local civil society organisations. It is also in the process of amending the criminal procedures code which local media say could deprive access to lawyers prior to recording statements from suspects in detention.

President Maithripala Sirisena's administration in July filed the application to regain GSP Plus, which industry players have estimated would provide a benefit in the range of more than $500 million annually.

Lambert said a decision on Sri Lanka's application would be finalized in May next year.

Sri Lanka lost the EU concession in 2010 after then-president Mahinda Rajapaksa rejected demands from the international community to address human rights abuses allegedly committed during a 2009 offensive to crush a Tamil insurgency.

Since ousting Rajapaksa in January last year, President Sirisena's administration has agreed to address the alleged rights violations through an impartial local mechanism that meets international standards.

Sirisena has renewed Sri Lanka's relations with the West and India, in a departure from Rajapaksa's China-first policy. The United Nations in March postponed an international war crimes report for six months at the request of the new government.

In April this year European Commission lifted Sri Lanka's fish export ban to the EU.

With annual exports of around $5 billion, the Sri Lankan industry produces garments for some of the world's most popular brands, such as Victoria's Secret, Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, and Marks and Spencer.