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Fish ban likely to delay regaining EU’s GSP+

9 March 2015 04:40 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
The re-establishment of the much coveted GSP+ (Generalized System of Preferences) preferential trade agreement with the European Union (EU) could take nearly two years due to the ban on fisheries, according to the man in charge of Sri Lanka’s economic policy.

“We are really in a spot of trouble because of the fish ban. Unless we sort out the fish ban, we cannot fill the application for GSP+,” Policy Planning and Economic Affairs Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva said.

The EU banned fish originating from Sri Lanka this January after years of concern over bottom trawling and unregulated fishing.

Reports said that Sri Lankan fish exporters are now resorting to trans-shipment of fish from India and the Maldives to maintain their European customers, despite the increase in costs.

Dr. de Silva mentioned that the Parliament had only last year passed the procurement of Vessel Monitoring Systems to be fixed on 1,700 trawlers and the fixing of the equipment on the boats could take till November.

However, he said that all attempts would be made to expedite the process and be completed by mid-year, since the application process of the GSP+ could take over a year.

“We’ve had discussions with the EU. It is not just filling up an application form and submitting it. It will take, maybe a year or so at the least to get all the paperwork done.”

Dr. de Silva said Sri Lanka would also have to conform to ‘snapshots’ the EU takes of countries, similar to annual reports on March 31, to re-qualify for GSP+ status and that the previous year’s snapshot had been ugly. “There’s a whole bunch of agreements that we have to abide by and the three that caused the greatest difficulty last time were the ICCPR- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, torture and child rights.”

He noted that issues relating to torture and children’s rights have been solved and Sri Lanka will paint a brighter picture this year.

“The ICCPR is what we need to come to an agreement with, which I don’t think will be a problem this time around.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera had recently visited the EU and had positive engagement with the European Commission over most the issues, including the fishing ban and regaining GSP+ status.

Sri Lanka currently only enjoys the low tariff concessions of GSP the EU extends to most developing nations. Allegations levelled for human rights violations during the civil war saw the country losing its tax-free GSP+ status in 2010.

Sri Lankan exports benefitted greatly from GSP+ in the past, with the apparel sector especially so, since over 30 percent of its market is in Europe.

Dr. de Silva said that negotiations for TIFA (Trade and Investment Framework Agreements) with the US, another major market for Sri Lanka exports, would resume in the near future, after talks broke down following the change of regime in 2004.

“You can’t have foreign policy completely in conflict with your economic policy,” he spoke of the strategies used by the previous regime.

He said that Sri Lanka would have to increase its exports to over 100 percent of its GDP, from the current 15 percent.
 
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