Conflicts and negotiations between employee and employer are not new. In these negotiations some consensus is often achieved regarding benefits for the employees, who are represented by trade unions with employers represented by their organizations. “A labour movement, as distinct from peasant uprisings, riots and other spontaneous forms of protest, arise with the growth of capitalism and wage-labour relationships” Kumari Jayawardena (1972), The Rise of the Labour Movement in Ceylon (p.3).
With globalization such negotiations reach out across the borders of countries or economies, and they are even now taking place at the levels of the global North vs.global South. “The uneven impact of the hegemonic neo-liberal globalization characterizes a growing polarization between the global North and the South, where the majority of the workers in the global South remain entrenched in conditions of hunger, poverty and violence” S. Janaka Biyanwila (2011),The Labour Movement in the Global South, Trade unions in Sri Lanka (p.8).
Today, the global North decides whether to trade or not with global South governments based on a set of criteria or conditions. Some of them are based on selected international conventions which are acceded to by the global South governments. If the global South governments are violating the norms and obligations of such international treaties and conventions, the global North has the veto power to cease their support for the global South governments through businesses means. Due to the government’s failure to adhere to such conventions the global North decisions directly and negatively impact the global South labour force which largely includes the poorer sectors of the economy or the bottom of the pyramid.One such major global North instruments, which is offered by the European Union (EU) is the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP Plus) for the global South governments which trade in European markets without paying any taxes on exporting goods and services.
There are three GSP regimes under the EU for developing countries;
I.The “standard” GSP; which currently provides 176 developing countries and territories with preferential access to the EU.
II.The special incentive arrangement known as “GSP Plus”, which offers additional tariff reductions to support vulnerable developing countries in the implementation of international conventions in the areas of sustainable development and good governance.
III.The Everything But Arms (EBA) arrangement, under which all products from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are not subject to any import duties in the EU.
GSP Plus and 27 International Conventions
These concessions are granted to countries which ratify and implement 27 international conventions on human rights, labour rights, women’s rights, environment and good governance that form part of the substantive qualifying criteria for GSP Plus. All GSP Plus beneficiaries, committed to maintain its ratification and effective implementation of the 27 (7 human rights, 8 labour rights, 8 environment, 3 narcotic control and 1 corruption) when it applied for the scheme.(see 27 international conventions at end of this article).
GSP Plus helps developing economies
As the EU stated, not all developing countries have the same needs: the last twenty to thirty years have seen the emergence of more advanced developing countries, which are now globally competitive. On the other hand, many poorer countries are lagging behind. They are affected by competition from more advanced emerging countries and have suffered during the global economic crisis. Advanced emerging economies are amongst the biggest beneficiaries of GSP preferences, currently accounting for around 40% of preferential imports under GSP. There is significant competition between GSP beneficiaries. Hence the need to concentrate preferences on those that most need them such as low and lower middle income countries which do not already have another preferential arrangement to enter the EU market.The GSP Plus enhanced preferences means full removal of tariffs on essentially the same product categories as those covered by the general arrangement. GSP Plus gives them vital access to EU markets and contributes to their economic growth.
Sri Lanka withdrawn from GSP Plus– Violation of 3 Conventions
Sri Lanka was under the GSP Plus regime since 2005 and it was withdrawn in 2010 during the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government.The EU launched an investigation on 14 October 2008 to assess whether the national legislation of Sri Lanka incorporating three UN human rights conventions (out of 27) was effectively implemented. Three international conventions were the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) - such as to indicate that Sri Lanka at the time was not effectively implementing them.
Sri Lanka committed to maintain its ratification and effective implementation of the 27 conventions when it applied for the scheme. As stated, the investigation identifies significant shortcomings in respect of these three UN human rights conventions. Based on this the EU withdrew GSP Plus to Sri Lanka which had gained about $150 million annually due to preferential tariffs.The withdrawal of GSP Plus has increased its costs and eroded its competitiveness to a greater extent. The previous UPFA Government vehemently rejected the EU stance on Sri Lanka’s shortcomings in respect of these three UN rights conventions.
Value of Sri Lanka’s exports to EU
There was a time when Sri Lanka was the only country in Asia and one of only 14 countries in the world that enjoyed the GSP Plus special status with the EU in which more than 7,200 products categories were allowed duty-free into the EU. The EU is Sri Lanka’s largest export market, accounting for one-fourth 36% of all exports(of which garments constitute around 60%), followed by the United States with 24%.
Sri Lanka was a major beneficiary of the trading opportunities offered by GSP Plus and in 2008, EU imports from Sri Lanka under GSP Plus totalled US$ 1.67 billion. In 2014, bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and the EU exceeded US$ 5.07 billion, increasing 3.6% Year-on-Year (YoY) of which 69% consisted of Sri Lankan exports to the EU. Total export of textile and apparel industry of Sri Lanka 46% is represented in the EU market. In 2014, Sri Lanka’s apparel exports to the EU increased by 10.5%YoY to US$ 2.16 billion. If Sri Lanka was not withdrawn from GSP Plus concession export trade figures to EU may have gone higher.
Outcome of losing GSP Plus
Sri Lanka should do an independent survey on the socio-economic impact of losing GSP Plus which will help in the current negotiation process between the GoSL and the EU. As reported, following the withdrawal of tariff concessions for exporters to the EU, at least one large factory closed down in the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) that employed approximately 2000 workers. In addition a number of relatively smaller factories elsewhere were also closed. After this was announced Sri Lanka lost a number of orders due to the concessions being withdrawn. Overall apparel, ceramic and fisheries sector industries were mainly affected by the losing of GSP Plus.The GSP Plus concession enabled Sri Lanka to compete with other exporters whose production costs were lower. Creating employment in the war-affected areas in post-war Sri Lanka will help immensely with the on-going reconciliation process. But unfortunately Sri Lanka was withdrawn from GSP Plus in 2010 the year after the war ended.
Adding more fuel to the fire - CITES and Blood Ivory
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is one of the Conventions which come under the 27 conventions considering for GSP Plus. Sri Lanka is a signatory for the CITES since 1979. Under this convention, State parties are bound to adhere to norms and obligations of the Convention. In 2012, Sri Lanka’s Customs confiscated a stock of blood ivories which came from Kenya en route to Dubai. The previous UPFA government tried to distribute this confiscated blood ivory stock (359 pieces) to Buddhist temples, which totally violates the CITES obligations. This news created a huge uproar as well as criticisms in local and international media and brought shame on the previous UPFA government.
Today, the State parties for the CITES, publicly destroy or burn confiscated blood ivory. The latest, Kenya, burnt 15 tonnes of blood ivory on the International World Wildlife Day on 3rd March and on March 20th, Ethiopia burnt 6.1 tonnes of blood ivory. Dubai will set a fire for 6 tonnes of seized ivory which will be destroyed by the end of April this year by Dubai Municipality. Dubai Municipality mentioned that such a large amount of ivory was destroyed in line with international regulations (CITES) and also ivory trade is illegal in the UAE under Federal Law No 11 of 2002. As they further mentioned this will be a major national event, not just for Dubai but for the UAE and an awareness campaign regarding the ivory trade will run alongside the event.The whole world was highly appreciative of these acts carried out by these countries since elephants will soon become extinct from the earth. The EU is also fully supportive on protecting fauna and flora and is particularly against the trade of endangered species.
Change in the Government in 2015
The previous UPFA Government did not work towards getting back the GSP Plus for Sri Lanka.The New Democratic Front (NDF) government came into power early this year promising positive engagement with the international community. It seems now both the parties GoSL and the EU are working together on this matter. Under the current circumstances the NDF government initiated a dialogue to discuss with the EU how to get the GSP Plus to Sri Lanka.
Last month a high level delegation of the EU visited Sri Lanka and met with relevant officials of the Sri Lankan government on re-considering the GSP Plus for Sri Lanka. On this issue, the government should address the shortcomings and effectively implementing the three conventions (ICCPR, CAT and CRC), the new government is keen on re-establishing the independent commissions and looking for adopting a home-grown mechanism to overcome the war crimes allegations. The on-going reconciliation process in Sri Lanka would be more meaningful and likely to succeed when the positive outcomes from trade, investment and development take place.
Additionally what will the GoSL do?
Apart from the re-establishing the independent commissions and looking at adopting a home-grown mechanism for the ended conflict, the GoSL could also carry out certain acts without any delay, which would improve Sri Lanka’s human rights record and further enhance the confidence and trust upon the government by the EU. Such acts include;
- Accede to the Mine Ban Treaty
It was evident that both the parties to the conflict, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government security forces used the anti-personnel (AP) landmines totally in violation of the CRC. It was believed that this vicious weapon was introduced to Sri Lanka by the LTTE in 1980s. The LTTE massively produced and used them in the North and East regions of Sri Lanka as an offensive weapon. Later, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) security forces imported and used AP-mines as a defensive weapon against the LTTE in the surrounding areas of their camps.
When negotiations are going on, it is advisable for the GoSL to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT). This will guarantee that the victim-activated weapon will not be used. It would also be a welcoming gesture to the on-going reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. The entire EU member states have now banned the AP landmines and have already ratified the MBT.
- Ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability
In the meantime, Sri Lanka must ratify another human rights convention to which the country has been a signatory since 2007, namely the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD). The CRPD embraces a Human rights approach to disability. As stated, ‘the CRC enshrines, comprehensively, the rights of the child. The CRPD tailors the existent human rights norms to the special circumstances of disability, promoting the respect for inherent dignity, human diversity and autonomy.’In this context, the CRPD is uniquely placed to offer a constructive, rights-based framework for the protection of children with disabilities.
Overall, ratification of CRPD is of paramount importance for Sri Lanka which will benefit people in the country. It is the first Human Rights Convention of the 21st century that has been ratified by the EU as a regional entity. Sri Lanka is the only country in the South Asian region which has still not ratified the CRPD.
- Burning of Confiscated Blood Ivory
The GoSL must burn the blood ivory stock confiscated in 2012. This act will help in the current GoSL negotiations with the EU in getting GSP Plus for Sri Lanka. In this regard, the Deputy Minister for Tourism, Vasantha Senanayake has already informed the government last month that destroying of confiscated blood ivories could lead to the re-awarding of GSP Plus concessions to Sri Lanka. He had clearly mentioned in his letter to the government that CITES allows for certain confiscated materials under the agreement to be stored and used for scientific and educational purposes. In this letter he further recommended methods of destruction when it comes to ivory.
Several organizations, individuals and media raised the issue of blood ivory and their destruction by the government.The author of this article also sent letters to the President, Finance Minister and informed the Prime Minister, ministers and members of parliament and wrote newspaper articles on this topic. We are now eagerly await a positive outcome by the government on this matter.
Visit of UN Human Rights Head to Sri Lanka in June
Re-applying for GSP Plus does not mean betraying the country’s sovereignty but further strengthening the relationship between EU and Sri Lanka. Such negotiations and outcomes guarantee to the world that the state party commit and adhere to norms and obligations for such international conventions on human rights, labour rights, women’s rights, environment and good governance. This directly helps good governance in a democratic and a just society.
Recovery of GSP Plus concession would be a great step forward for the country’s competitive apparel and other sectors and for its global image. It would also create more business and employment opportunities which are directly supportive of rural economies, thereby helping to end poverty and also reach a healthy balance of trade in post-war Sri Lanka.
The GoSL has stated that, the Head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Prince ZeidRa’ad Al Hussein will visit Sri Lanka in June this year. Re-establishing the independent commissions and looking at adopting a home-grown mechanism to overcome any war crimes allegations, will immensely ease the pressure on the GoSL by international governments. In the meantime carrying out above mentioned activities by the GoSL will definitely help to improve Sri Lanka’s human rights record and Prince Al Hussein himself will be able to witness the development on these issues when he visits Sri Lanka.
The 27 International Conventions are;
1.International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 2.International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights 3.International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 4. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women 5. Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 6. Convention on the Rights of the Child 7.Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of the Genocide 8.Minimum Age for Admission to Employment (N 138) 9.Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (N 182) 10.Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (N 105) 11. Forced Compulsory Labour Convention (N 29) 12.Equal Remuneration of Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value Convention (N 100) 13.Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation Convention (N 111) 14.Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention (N 87) 15.Application of the Principles of the Right to Organise and Bargain Collectively Convention (N 98) 16.International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid 17.Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer 18.Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste and Their Disposal 19.Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutant 20.Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species 21.Convention on Biological Diversity 22.Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety 23.Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change 24. UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) 25.UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) 26. UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988) 27.Mexico UN Convention on Corruption.
The writer is a researcher in socio-economic development and disarmament. He can be reached at email@example.com.