Wednesday, March 17, 2010

EU in talks with Sri Lanka on maintaining trade privileges

The European Union wants to work with Colombo to avoid the withdrawal of Sri Lanka's trade privileges with the bloc, under threat due to rights concerns, an official said Tuesday.

"The Commission remains committed to work with Sri Lanka to see whether the conditions for a reversal" of a decision last month to suspend the trade privileges "are in place", said EU Commission trade spokesman John Clancy.

For that to happen there must first be "significant improvements on the effective implementation of the human rights conventions," he added.

European Union nations decided last month to withdraw preferential trade benefits from Sri Lanka due to "significant shortcomings" on human rights issues, the EU Commission announced.

However the suspension of the GSP+ (Generalised System of Preferences plus) benefits will not take effect for six months giving Sri Lanka time to address the problems identified.

The European Union's GSP+ scheme gives 16 poor nations preferential access to the trading bloc in return for following strict commitments on a wide variety of social and rights issues.

Sri Lanka's hawkish government has faced almost constant criticism over the past several years because of the way it conducted a war against Tamil Tiger rebels.

Government forces have been accused of a host of rights violations including the indiscriminate killing of thousands of Tamil civilians, the murder of aid workers and the execution of surrendering rebels.

Sri Lanka has criticised the decision by European Union nations to withdraw the trade benefits, with the foreign ministry in Colombo complaining that Europe was setting "unattainable targets" for the island.

Sri Lanka gains about 150 million dollars annually due to preferential tariffs, according to trade estimates.

The island's clothing industry is the main beneficiary, using the tax breaks to sell to high street retailers in Europe.

A high-level Sri Lankan delegation, led by foreign secretary Romesh Jayasinghe, visited Brussels on Monday for a "preliminary exchange of views", Clancy said.

"The Sri Lankans and EU counterparts agreed to meet again" on the issue, he added.


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