Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, in a short interview with the Dailymirror during her visit to the country, said her country was in favour of giving the GSP plus facility for Sri Lanka to gain better access to markets in the European Union. Expressing that Sweden is eager to strengthen relations with Sri Lanka, she said she was happy to see the country engaged with the international community on human rights issues.
Excerpts of the interview.
QHow do you see your visit to Sri Lanka at this time?
It is exactly the right time to come back, both being able to notice the changes with the new government and also other policies. And , it is to encourage continued reforms. Expectations are high. It is encouraging to see that Sri Lanka is engaged with the international community. We are to deepen our business and economic relations.
QHow do you assess the developments in Sri Lanka particularly after the change of government?
We see clearly the level of ambitions. What is expressed clearly is to re-engage on human rights and working on them, and democracy. That is welcome. You are also engaging in the reconciliation. I also understand that there is a long way to go. It will take time. They are working on the Geneva report and all civil society organisations said that fear has been reduced.
QWhat is the kind of role Sweden intends to play in case of Sri Lanka?
We have had a good relationship over the years. We feel engaged with what happens in this country. We can be a partner. We can be a good friend of Sri Lanka. We can send more tourists and trade and businesses. We would contribute in every way. I know the government here wants us to be more representative at diplomatic level. That will be my wish list as well.
QHow do you see the potential of Sri Lanka to becoming an economic hub?
I see enormous potential. First of all, tourism will definitely improve. We have 70,000 Swedish tourists coming here. You are now seen especially as a country with a low level of corruption. You are working on the rule of law. You want to strengthen democracy and human rights. That is very important. You have a basic education system.
QWhat are the areas you explored for further strengthening relations with Sri Lanka?
We explored areas such as transport, infrastructure and logistical areas, water and waste management, ICT. We have explored both technical and sustainable development areas too.
QSri Lanka is trying to secure the GSP plus trade facility to gain increased access to markets in Europe
We can help live up to the criteria. It has its own procedures. You have to deliver on the criteria set up. We would be happy to see the GSP plus finalised. If you think there is anything where we can help out, we will look into it. We are absolutely in favour of GSP plus for Sri Lanka. You have to live up to the criteria.
QYou are a politician advocating gender equality. What is your position on woman representation in vital decision-making bodies in Sri Lanka?
This is one thing I have been complaining a little bit with the leaders. They have to make sure that more women can have a voice and influence. Tonight, I will explain in my speech on our feminist foreign policy. Right representation and resources should be given to women in an equal way with men. In any peace and reconciliation process, I think women have a crucial role to play.
QYou mean that woman representation is not enough here at different levels of government?
It is very low. It is surprisingly low. I met so many strong, vocal, professional and competent women here. I think they can probably improve their representation in different political contexts .
pic by Kushan pathiraja