Sri Lanka on track to retain GSP+ - EU delegation | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka on track to retain GSP+ - EU delegation

Karim, Zahradil and EU Ambassador Tung-Lai Margue at the press conference
Karim, Zahradil and EU Ambassador Tung-Lai Margue at the press conference

Members of the European Parliament Committee on International Trade who were here on an observation mission on GSP + compliance opined Sri Lanka was on track to retain the preferential trade concessions with the country’s largest international trading partner despite there being outstanding issues to be addressed.

Declining to offer a deadline to meet outstanding commitments the country has made on human rights and labour fronts such as the repealing of the PTA, the delegation stressed they have seen satisfying progress on the ground and were pleased to see a vibrant democracy in Sri Lanka, as manifested by the vote on No confidence Motion against the Prime Minister last week.

Referring to the recent clashes in Digana, the delegation, however observed that such instances highlighted Sri Lanka had remaining challenges and the best way to tackle these was to ensure perpetrators are prosecuted without impunity.

Holding a press conference to share some of their findings and observations Jan Zahradil, Chair of the six member INTA delegation, a member from the Czech Republic said, “It’s necessary to stress that we come as friends, allies and partners and we are not here to master anyone.”

Zahradil stressed, their visit is not part of an EU scrutiny on Sri Lanka as some headlines in the newspapers have suggested. “We simply want to communicate, to aid and if necessary, to assist. We are interested in security issues and judiciary matters because it is important for overseas investors and European investors to be certain that Sri Lanka is a stable and predictable country.”

The committee on International Trade deals with trade issues and trade agreements of the 28 nation EU with international partners. The delegation comprised six members from four countries - Catalonia, UK, Austria and the Czhech Republic.

Dispelling rumours that their visit was linked to the recent incidents in Digana, Kandy, the Chair of the delegation said it was not some ‘immediate reaction’ to any ‘urgent situation’.

“The main focus was to talk about the commitments made by the government vis a vis renewal of GSP +. The discussions focused on labour market reorganization, adoption of International Labour Organization commitments and resolutions, also some legislation dealing with security, criminal code and Prevention of Terrorism Act. So far its been quite successful.”

Referring to last week’s No confidence Motion in which the Prime Minister secured a comfortable majority in the House, Zahradil said, “We have been able to see democracy working in Sri Lanka. This was a very good example of real democracy because the opposition had the full right to put forward a motion of no confidence, the government had the full right to defend itself”.

“For us it was a very good example of vivid and vibrant democracy in Sri Lanka,” he said.

He said, they were here to debate issues related with the GSP + scheme which is beneficial for both, Sri Lanka and the European countries because it enhances mutual trade. “And as you probably know, the atmosphere worldwide for free trade is not very optimistic at the moment. We have various arrangements with various countries, like removing trade barriers, so we are very keen to cooperate with our Sri Lanka partners and friends to keep GSP + alive,” he added.

INTA Standing Rapporteur for South Asia Sajjad Karim said, they were ‘extremely keen to deepen and strengthen the relationship between the EU and Sri Lanka’.

He said, he wanted to clarify a few points of their past and the current visit. We need to dispel the myth of having ‘external demands’.

“There is clearly in certain sections of political disclose in Sri Lanka, they like to push this message that there are demands from EU and elsewhere. That is simply not the case. The EU demands nothing. Actually Sri Lanka wants to lift its standards for itself. I believe the vast majority of people certainly want to adhere to international standards for the good of equitable law enforcement which will have far reaching positive effects for Sri Lanka,” Karim said.

“This is a journey we undertake as equal partners with Sri Lanka in order to ultimately arrive at a place where we have a strong, open, vibrant, tolerant Sri Lanka and a Sri Lanka that is providing opportunity for its citizens and in raising their living standards. I believe that is the goal of the vast majority of Sri Lankan citizens. And therefore, we are your partners in that journey,” he explained.

Referring to the Digana incident as one of the remaining challenges of the country, the British member of the EU Parliament said, “So far as the recent incidents that erupted in Kandy are concerned, we were not entirely satisfied that adequate policing protection was provided to those who were under attack, there is nervousness among minority communities here which includes of course the Muslims.”

He said, there is need today for the government to reach out to ensure that cohesion and good community relations are reinstated. The ‘only real’ demonstration of that, he said, will be by ensuring there is no impunity from prosecutions for the perpetrators of that attack, ‘whoever they may be’.

The Speaker and Minister Rauff Hakeem had assured the delegation that impunity will not be played out and they will see proper prosecutions of the perpetrators.

He said in relation to the democratic exercise that took place in Parliament this week, he would not make any comments on the ‘Dynamics of the vote’ since it was entirely an internal matter for Sri Lanka.

However he added, “Yet I do feel that Sri Lanka and the government has got an opportunity to strengthen the team further, the team that genuinely wants to undertake the type of changes required by the GSP+ scheme and those changes the people of Sri Lanka will welcome.”

Asked if Sri Lanka stands to lose GSP+ concessions in the future, given that it lost it once in the past and what would be the grounds if so, he said, the GSP plus has a review and monitoring mechanism, one of the key things that will be looked for within that is a trend of improvement manifested by genuine commitment with systems being put in place to arrive at the goals expected.

“There has been much delivery already by Sri Lanka on many different areas..but there is further work to do and there is an opportunity to do that now (since NCM has been won by the Prime Minister) and we hope SL utilizes this immediate opportunity that’s available.”

Head of delegation Zahradil said, they were ready and willing to do everything to help our Sri Lankan partners to prevent a situation of GSP+ trade concessions being withdrawn again.

“There is definitely progress on the commitments made by the government, when GSP + was renewed. That progress will be further monitored. And we firmly believe the outcome is positive and the situation (withdrawal of GSP+) will never have to be repeated again.”

“It is our understanding that fairly soon the relevant legislation (replacing PTA) will be brought before Parliament and relevant constitutional procedures are underway. We remain completely satisfied that all the constitutional requirements for this legislation to come forward are being adhered to,” he said adding that they look forward to the completion of that process.

Karim said their current mission was different from that of the European Commission. “There is a GSP+ review mechanism in place with teams coming from EU Commission to carry out monitoring exercises. Our delegation is a parliamentary delegation, we are not here to monitor the details in the way the Commission officials do.”

Explaining further he said, in terms of the journey that has been undertaken , ‘we have already seen delivery of some of the aspects that were required and I quite clearly see work in progress on the remaining issues’.

However, he declined to say that there were time frames connected. “In terms of a time span I should say this is a journey you will see along the way that certain matters are being completed but others will remain as work in progress. But certain issues that have been identified will be achieved as we go along.

EU Parliament brought in a resolution in April 2017 opposing the GSP + concessions to Sri Lanka. However, the Chair of the delegation said the general feeling towards Sri Lanka has changed now.

“Reinstating GSP + went through the EU Parliament without any real problems, no one objected - neither our committee nor the plenary session of the EU Parliament. So the instalment was ok. Now we are communicating with our partners and monitoring the situation.”

The delegation of six Members of the European Parliament Committee on International Trade (INTA) visited Sri Lanka from April 4-6 to follow up on the country’s commitments made in exchange for access to the European Union (EU) market.

The Generalized System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) is of much importance for Sri Lanka’s economy given that EU is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner following the country’s re-entry into GSP+ domain mid last year, making it a privileged trading partner with the 28 nation bloc.

The INTA delegation has noted that trade between the EU and Sri Lanka is on an upward trajectory since then.

The delegation met the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and key parliamentarians including the Speaker of Parliament, the Opposition Leader, the Minister of Law and Order, the Minister of Trade and Development, the Minister of Labour, and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. The visit also included discussions with civil society, trade unionists, and representatives of the ILO and the UN, as well as a field visit to the Export Processing Zone in Katunayake on Friday prior to their departure.

Pic: Chaminda Niroshana