US trade officials concluded a visit to Sri Lanka to review labor conditions tied to their GSP trade concession. They clarified that their review of GSP duty free concessions (on USD $116 million worth of goods in 2009) has nothing to do with the European Union’s recently suspended GSP+ concession. Assistant US Trade Representative Michael Delaney said that the US GSP concession concerns labor rights and that he had engaged in constructive talks on that issue. The EU’s GSP+ concession is more broadly tied to human rights and caused political drama when it was suspended in July. The US review of their unrelated GSP program has been connected to the same drama due to ignorance and unclear reports in the media.
“There have been some media reports which have mischaracterized the United States GSP review process. I would like to clarify that the United States GSP program is wholly independent of any other countries’ review. Our GSP review is solely focused on labor rights. In addition, the GSP trade benefits continue during the ongoing review process.”
In contrast, the EU GSP+ concession was tied to human rights concerns, thus dealing with highly controversial wartime issues. The US GSP concession, by contrast, is tied to labor issues unrelated to the war.
Delaney stated that he had conducted productive meetings with the government, unions, companies and visited factories to address a complaint by the American Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO) that Sri Lanka is not affording workers internationally recognized labor rights. Several other countries are under review, including Labanon, Russia and Uzbekistan.
The GSP program provides duty free treatment for over 3,400 products from 131 countries and territories. In Sri Lanka it covers $116 million USD worth of goods including, machinery, electrical goods, chemical products, agricultural products, jewelry and more. This is not a garments focused concession like the EU’s GSP+.
Delany said that the concession was under an ongoing review and could not give a definite timeline on any decision.