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Regaining EU GSP Plus maybe far from govt.’s claim: envoy

26 November 2015 04:13 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Regaining the General System of Preferences Plus (GSP Plus) facility from the European Union (EU) maybe farther away than the government has recently claimed, according to the disposition of EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka David Daly, who called the private sector to pressure the government over human rights issues. 

Speaking at the Sri Lanka Apparel Exporters’ Association Annual General Meeting (AGM) this week, he noted that the recent developments in the local front are raising questions in Brussels. 

“The recent violence against students raises some questions. What does the government do about it? What sort of follow up is there?” he asked. 
He also questioned whether the government has a realistic grip of what goes on in the country, referring to the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances revealing the torture chamber in the Trincomalee Naval Base, which was utilized as recently as last year. 

Daly said after the UN visit, the Sri Lankan government had questioned the officers the UN had met, in order to find out if the claim was actually true. 
“Is this true? Is this the sort of thing still happening? Did the government sanction this? Was the government aware of this?” Daly spoke of the questions the new regime asked its own officers. 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had denied the existence of the torture chamber when the issue was raised in parliament earlier this year. 
“These are examples of the issues which the EU government is now discussing,” Daly said. 

Earlier this year when Daly assumed duties, he had said that in addition to the human rights issues raised during the past regime—which had led to the cancellation of GSP Plus—the new regime would have to deal with the EU fishing ban issued this year. 

Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva, who had been present then, said that the new fishing equipment would be equipped in November and an understanding will be reached in the human rights front, and the government will apply for GSP Plus immediately afterwards, regaining the facility by mid-2016. 

Dr. de Silva recently reaffirmed the statement, after improvements were seen in both issues, which Daly too lauded this week following positive outcomes in a visit by an EU fisheries delegation last week and the UN resolution on human rights last month. 

However, Daly reiterated that GSP Plus is a unilateral decision taken by the EU Parliament to provide duty-free access to developing countries, which follow all 27 international conventions, and the entire process may take up to eight months following the application submission. 

He said that having issues, which recently propped up in the country being left unsolved, will adversely impact the application, and that Sri Lanka could lose the facility just as easily as it did in the past. 

“All GSP Plus matters are continuous. Every year an evaluation is made by the monitoring mechanism. When the country is applying for the GSP Plus, they welcome the European Commission Officer warmly. After they get GSP Plus, they are not happy to see him,” Daly said. 

He noted that the government will also have to change its pattern of thinking to regain GSP Plus. 

“What they have in mind are discussions on T-shirts and other export products. However, my idea of discussions on GSP Plus is about torture, freedom of the media, the Prevention on Terrorism Act, the environment and other issues that flow from the 27 conventions,” Daly said. 

Both Wickremesinghe and Dr. de Silva had said that the facility must be regained since the EU is Sri Lanka’s largest regional market. The EU made up 31 percent of Sri Lanka’s exports in 2014. 

Therefore, Daly requested the apparel and other export companies, which will benefit from the facility, to lobby the government to tighten up its regulations in these matters. 

“I want you to lobby for GSP Plus, not just due to your companies’ interests. Lobby the government by asking ‘What is the state of the human rights in the country’,” Daly said. 

He said that GSP Plus is an objective tool. Dr. de Silva had said that it was due to the past government alienating the largest Western market in its foreign policy that the country lost GSP Plus. 

“Measures taken under the GSP Plus must be taken for objective reasons, and not just because we want to help the country because of this government over that. That is not a justification of GSP Plus,” Daly said. 

He said that the EU doesn’t expect Sri Lanka to be a perfect country, but wishes to see sustainable improvements in its domestic front. (CW)
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