By Jamila Najmuddin
EU Member States decided today to temporarily withdraw preferential tariff benefits to Sri Lanka under a special incentive arrangement for sustainable development and good governance, known as GSP plus, the European Commission of Trade announced a short while ago.
When contacted by Daily Mirror online the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Brussels Ravinatha Aryasingha confirmed that the EU had formally informed him of the decision to temporarily withdraw the trade concession.
He said that the decision by the EU has now been conveyed to Colombo and a formal response by Sri Lanka is expected to be made tomorrow.
The formal announcement follows an exhaustive investigation by the European Commission, which identified significant shortcomings in respect of Sri Lanka’s implementation of three UN human rights conventions relevant for benefits under the scheme, the EU said.
The EU however said that suspension of GSP+ benefits is temporary, as the overarching EU objective remains to use GSP+ as an incentive to underpin improvements in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. The suspension will only take effect in six months time, giving Sri Lanka extra time to address the problems identified.
Meanwhile government sources in Colombo said that Sri Lanka is likely to challenge the decision by the EU to suspend the Trade concession and will seek to maintain dialogue with EU member states while not agreeing to a human rights probe.
Meanwhile EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said on his website, "I would like to emphasise that I hope Sri Lanka will sit with us over the next six months in order to agree upon a set of measures that will result in rapid, demonstrable and sustainable progress in relation to the human rights shortcomings we have identified."
The EU remains open to a full dialogue with the government of Sri Lanka, above all to encourage it to take the necessary steps towards an effective implementation of GSP+-relevant human rights conventions. The EU will closely monitor and regularly re-evaluate developments in this area. Once sufficient progress has been made, the Commission will propose to EU Member States that the decision taken today be reversed and GSP+ benefits restored.
The decision to withdraw GSP + benefits from Sri Lanka has been taken in line with the proposal of the European Commission of December 2009.
The temporary withdrawal takes effect 6 months from now. At that time, Sri Lankan exports would revert to standard GSP preferences as provided for in the current GSP Regulation (732/08). These preferences will still be more generous for key Sri Lankan exports such as clothing than those provided by other major developed countries. (Daily Mirror online)