By Raisa Wickrematunge
Sri Lankan-born Niranjan Deva-Aditya, is the first ever Asian to be elected into the European Parliament.
He was selected to represent South East England in the European Parliament in 1999. Deva-Aditya was also a member of the Conservative Party, until he was defeated in the 1997 General Elections. Though based in the UK, the European Parliament member hasn’t forgotten his roots. He snatched time in between meetings to weigh in on the GSP+ scheme, amongst other issues, during a recent visit to Sri Lanka.
Q: What does losing the GSP+ scheme mean for the Sri Lankan economy?
A: I don’t think we should count chickens before they’re hatched. I’m not 100% sure that (Sri Lanka) has lost it. The scheme has been granted to Sri Lanka’s friendship countries. In fact, the European Union is increasing aid to Sri Lanka. I was involved in that decision, just a couple of weeks ago, to grant € 68 million worth of aid to Sri Lanka. If the EU was angry with Sri Lanka, why would they increase the amount of aid to (the island)?
Q: But in the event we do lose it, what do you think the outcome would be? Do you have any figures for how many jobs would be lost?
A: Well, why don’t we think of how we make sure it’s not lost. As to job loss, I don’t honestly know. Independent bodies have been quoting figures. The job losses might not actually be as bad as forecasted. In fact, there are countries asking why we continue to support Sri Lanka in this manner since the Lankan economy is doing so well.
Q: Is it common practice to grant the GSP+ scheme subject to conditions?
A: It is so in every country. However, Sri Lanka is an older democracy than 16 of the 27 member states of the EU. Sri Lanka has had 16 general elections, presidential elections, with election monitors observing. It’s got something that even Britain doesn’t have, that is, to take the government to court on a fundamental rights violation. In Britain we cannot do that. So here is Sri Lanka, being castigated for what is an administrative delay in not implementing what Sri Lanka has agreed to in international treaties.
Q: Do you then think the conditions are unfair?
A: What I’m trying to say is, Sri Lanka has made it’s case. Sri Lanka is a rarity and should be proactive. They should say “We are an example of a democratic nation.”
Q: Basil Rajapaksa has told The Sunday Leader that the loss of the GSP+ scheme would not have as adverse an impact as forecasted. “People are now more competitive than previously. We have a good and creative work force, and management teams,” he said. Would you agree?
A: I would agree, in the sense that, these (preferential schemes) do raise concerns in the long term, since they are damaging to the export market. Preferences given don’t necessarily lead to competitiveness. These preferences are given to our weak friends who need help. For example, ‘Everything But Arms’ — a scheme aiding at least 40 developing countries with economic growth. Sri Lanka, by comparison, is more productive. The Sri Lankan economy is more capable, their exports are more upmarket and effective.
Q: The Sri Lankan Government vehemently opposed an investigation by the EU when the GSP+ system came up for renewal. The government now maintains that the investigation was tantamount to an infringement of the sovereignty of an independent country. Do you agree?
A: All the EU is saying is that Sri Lanka signed 14 international protocols. No one held a gun to anyone’s head for Sri Lanka to sign. Then they didn’t implement it. Many EU countries signed treaties which have not yet been implemented. This is an administrative mess up. It has nothing to do with politics. The EU is just saying, please make the agreement Sri Lanka signed, into law.
However, I do think the comments about the 17th Amendment were going too far. Sri Lanka should repeal/implement its own acts when it feels like. So they should never have asked that of them. On the other hand, they were merely asking Sri Lanka as a friend, to implement their constitution.
Q: Do you think the EU was right to use the term ‘investigate’ in the first place?
A: It was definitely the wrong word to use. The President was right to take umbrage. In that case, why doesn’t Sri Lanka investigate the illegal war in Iraq, where 100,000 people were killed, sanctioned by the UN?
Q: What do you think of the comments by the EU on implementing the 17th Amendment?
A: Well, if your friend’s shoelace was undone and you knew he was going to trip and injure yourself, wouldn’t you warn him? The problem with the mass media is that they have blown up this administrative problem into a major crisis.