ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 41
Financial Times  

EU trade benefits threatened by human rights concerns

By Dilshani Samaraweera

The European Commission (EC) office says Sri Lanka could lose trade benefits from the European Union (EU) if allegations of human rights and labour rights violations continue to pile up.

Sri Lanka is one of 14 countries given GSP+ trade concessions by the EU. The GSP+ scheme gives bigger trade benefits than the usual GSP scheme of the EU and under the GSP+ Sri Lanka can export around 7,000 items into the EU duty free. The trade scheme has been particularly useful for the local garment sector. The large duty reduction under GSP+ has allowed Sri Lankan garments to remain competitive against lower cost clothing from countries like China, India, Vietnam and Bangladesh. As a result, the garment industry has been able to compensate for market losses in the US by increasing market share in European countries like the UK.

But now, the EC office says Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status could be threatened beyond 2008.

“The GSP+ is periodically reviewed to make improvements on it. The next review is due in 2008 and Sri Lanka risks losing the GSP+ preferences due to non implementation of international conventions,” said Roshan Lyman, Head of Politics and Trade at the EC office in Sri Lanka. Lyman was speaking at a skills development programme organised by the European Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka last week.

To qualify for GSP+ concessions Sri Lanka had to show exceptionally high labour, environmental and human rights standards, for a developing country. The GSP+ is actually a reward for being a developing country that tries to ensure greater human development. Sri Lanka met this requirement by putting forward a string of international conventions signed by various governments. But the EC office says increasing allegations of human rights violations and labour rights violations could imply that Sri Lanka is not actually enforcing these international conventions. If these allegations continue and Sri Lanka is seen as a country that signs international conventions but does not actually enforce them, the country risks losing GSP+ status very soon.
“So far there are no official complaints brought before the EC. But various organisations have been pointing out repeated human rights violations and labour rights violations. Particularly labour rights related matters are coming up at Brussels-based forums. In this situation other countries can also lobby against Sri Lanka getting the GSP+.

So at the time of the review in 2008, these questions may be raised in a more aggressive manner and the EC may have to consider these allegations and revisit Sri Lanka’s suitability to continue receiving the GSP+,” said Lyman.

The EC office says Sri Lanka needs to introduce laws to enforce international conventions where needed and should aim to provide better human rights and labour conditions. Sri Lanka has already requested the EC for changes to GSP+ rules, to increase its usage by Sri Lankan companies.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.