By Dilini Perera
The Generalised System of Preference (GSP) is a trade agreement in which the European Union gives 176 countries and territories, preferential access to the EU market. By reducing the tariff on goods entering the market, the EU’s main priority is to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development and good governance. There is no expectation or requirement that this form of access is reciprocated.
Under GSP+, Sri Lanka receives, among 15 other countries, additional benefits, which can be withdrawn if the EU finds that the country does not respect the criteria for eligibility. Sri Lanka has hugely benefited by the opportunities offered by GSP+, especially in the clothing and fisheries sector. In 2008, the imports to EU from Sri Lanka totalled 1.24 billion Euros. The agreement, which is subject to renewal every three years, places emphasis on human rights and labour laws within the country. Sri Lanka will lose this facility on August 15.
The EU informed the Sri Lankan Government last week that it is willing to extend the GSP+ benefits for another six months on the condition that the government provide a written commitment by July 1 to implement 15 conditions — all of them relating to human rights and good governance. In February this year, the EU member states decided to withdraw GSP+ for Sri Lanka stating that the country had not followed through with three UN human rights conventions that were relevant to receive benefits from the scheme.
The suspension was deemed temporary as it was considered an incentive to support the improvement of human rights in Sri Lanka. Since the suspension takes six months to be implemented, Sri Lanka has been given that time to address the problems that have been identified by the European Commission. The investigation which was conducted from October 2008 to October 2009, found that Sri Lanka had significant shortcomings with regard to three covenants; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). These three, among 27 international conventions are essential qualifying criteria for GSP+.
Delegations were sent to Brussels in order to negotiate these terms on March 16-17 and May 20-21 this year. The delegation, which included P. B. Jayasundara, Romesh Jayasinghe and Mohan Peiris, had several rounds of talks with the EU. However, no concrete decision was made. Last Wednesday President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced at the Cabinet meeting that Sri Lanka would not be committing to the demands made by the EU since they deal with internal politics rather than international trade.
The conditions, 15 in all, include the release of those imprisoned under Emergency Regulations and repeal of some sections of the Prevention of Terrorism Act which are incompatible with the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). The President stated that the EU had no right to interfere in the matters of a sovereign state and added that Sri Lanka does not need the GSP+ concession, even though it is estimated that 100,000 workers will be directly affected if the agreement is not extended.
1. Reduction in the number of derogations to the ICCPR.
2. Take steps to ensure that the key objective of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, namely to provide for independent and impartial appointments to key public positions, is fully safeguarded, including through a Constitutional Council which adequately reflects the interests of all political, ethnic and religious groups and minorities within Sri Lankan society.
3. Repeal the remaining part of the 2005 Emergency Regulations, notably those regulations concerning detention without trial, restrictions on freedom of movement, ouster of jurisdiction and immunity and repeals of the 2006 Emergency Regulations (Gazette No 1474/5/2006). If GoSL considers that it is essential to retain certain provisions which are compatible with the ICCPR or UNCAT, such as provisions concerning possession of weapons, such provisions should be transferred to the Criminal Code.
4. Repeal those sections of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which are incompatible with the ICCPR (in particular, Sections 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16 and 26) or amendment so as to make them clearly compatible with the ICCPR.
5. Repeal of the outer clause in Section 8 and the immunity clause in Section 9 of the Public Security Ordinance or amendment so as to make them clearly compatible with the ICCPR.
6. Adoption of the planned amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, which provide for the right of a suspect to see a lawyer immediately following his arrest.
7. Legislative steps necessary to allow individuals to submit complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee under the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR and to the UN Committee against Torture under Article 22.
8. Steps to implement outstanding opinions of the UN Human Rights Committee in individual cases.
9. Extension of an invitation to the following UN Special Rapporteurs who have requested to visit Sri Lanka (UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers).
10. Responses to a significant number of individual cases currently pending before the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances.
11. Publication of the final report of the 2008 Commission of Enquiry.
12. Publication or making available to family members a list of the former LTTE combatants currently held in detention as well as all other persons detained under the Emergency Regulations. Decisive steps to bring to an end the detention of any persons held under the Emergency Regulations either by releasing them or by bringing them to trial.
13. Granting of access to all places of detention for monitoring purposes to an independent humanitarian organisation, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
14. Adoption of the National Human Rights Action Plan by Parliament and its prompt implementation.
15. Take steps to ensure journalists can exercise their professional duties without harassment.
- Eu Has No Right To Interfere In The Sovereignty Of Sri Lanka
G.L. Grandstands Against EU Decision
Speaking at a media briefing on Thursday the Minister of External Affairs, Professor G. L. Peiris announced that the government has indeed rejected the conditions by the European Union in order to receive the GSP+ concession.
He said that Lady Katherine Ashton (EU’s Foreign Policy Commissioner) had sent him a letter on June 17 stating that the GSP+ concession could be extended for an additional limited time, subject to a clear, written commitment by the Sri Lankan Government to carry out the 15 conditions attached to the letter. Peiris revealed however, that the letter praised Sri Lanka for what it had achieved, admitting that it was “much improved” with regards to progress regarding human rights, especially those concerning the rights of the child.
He reiterated that it was not the role of the EU to interfere in the sovereignty of Sri Lanka and that they cannot accept the conditions put forward by them.
“To fulfill the conditions they are asking of us, we would have to change the constitution and brush aside the decisions of the highest court in the country. We cannot surrender our decision making power to a foreign government. I don’t think even the public will agree to this or ask us to fulfil these conditions”.
He went on to describe how some of these conditions are difficult or unreasonable to fulfil within a period of six months ending December this year. Peiris said that some of the conditions pertaining to Public Security and the Prevention of Terrorism Act would severely affect the security of civilians as well as deter public officers from acting in good faith.
“They would be reluctant to do what is right for fear of legal repercussions”.
He added that conditions regarding the Emergency Regulations, the government has already repealed 70 percent of the laws on May 5 without pressure from any party. He also said that the Emergency Regulations were necessary during that time for the good of the people and when the laws were repealed, it was done voluntarily.
Finally he brought up the issue of plaintiffs on human rights issues being able to take their cases to international courts. “How can they ask us to allow this when some of their member states don’t follow this procedure?” He asked.
Those who are mainly affected by this decision, the garment workers were also addressed and Peiris seemed confident in Sri Lanka getting by without this concession. “The garment industry is strong. When the quota period ended, many speculated that this would be the end of the industry. But, we were resilient. We have creativity and entrepreneurship; the resilience to adapt and create ways in which we can increase productivity and revenue.”
Fielding a question from The Sunday Leader about the plight of the 100,000 workers who will be directly affected by this decision, Peiris said “It is the duty of the government to look after our people, not the duty of foreign governments. We will look after our people. We have faced more than this. We have the people’s welfare at heart.”
Peiris also stated that the 150 million US Dollars we gain as a result of the concession, “is nothing” compared to the 7 percent growth we have experienced in the economy.
“Compared to the six billion US Dollars we have in the external reserves, the benefit we get from the GSP+ is nothing”. He added that this would not be a challenge for Sri Lanka. “We have faced more daunting tasks and we have come through. We will not risk our independence for conditions that will negatively affect the security and well being of our people”. When asked if he feels that Sri Lanka will be isolated for the stance that it is taking with regard to this matter Peiris replied, “We are not hardening ourselves. No self-respecting government would agree to undertake the conditions they are asking of us. Our decision is one that most governments would take”.
- Conditions Non Negotiable
Bernard Savages Sri Lanka
The Sunday Leader spoke with Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union in Colombo, Bernard Savage before the Government of Sri Lanka made its decision to reject the GSP+ benefit. Savage stated that the EU was looking forward to discussing the GSP+ benefit with Sri Lanka but that the conditions would be non-negotiable. At the time of the conversation the government had made no contact with him regarding the matter and he said “the conditions would not be made available to the public unless the government accepts the proposal.”
“The EU Is Being Unfair” — JAAF Chairman
Chairman, Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), A. Sukumaran told The Sunday Leader that he believed that the European Union wanted to work with the government in providing GSP+ to the country. However, after the conditions that were put forward by the EU were made public, he believes different. “The EU is being unfair and unreasonable with their demands. We can’t expect the government to agree to these conditions. The EU keeps shifting the goal posts.”
Sukumaran was realistic and yet hopeful about the impact this decision is going to have on the industry. “It’s going to be tough. Overall, exports are going to drop but the extent of the shortfall is not going to be catastrophic.”
Even though it is estimated that 68 companies will be directly affected by the withdrawal of the GSP+, Sukumaran stated that he does not have the names and figures for these companies. “Each company is affected differently by this decision and it all depends on the individual negotiating strength of the company. Some companies will manage by passing the cost onto the consumer and others will split the difference.” Sukumaran explained that 50 percent of total exports go to European countries and out of that percentage, 2/3 qualifies for GSP+. “There will be a 10 percent reduction in total exports and we will need to work with the government in order to remedy this situation.” When asked about those who would be directly affected by this decision, Sukumaran said that at last count, 250,000 workers were directly involved in the garment industry and that a 10 percent drop would definitely not affect 100,000 workers. He added that since there are many vacancies in the industry right now, workers would not be impacted as harshly as speculated.