COMMENT: EU keeps door open on GSP+ with Sri Lanka
The last thing the Commission wanted to do was withdraw GSP from Sri Lanka
It was inevitable that European member states would vote to withdraw GSP+ trade benefits from Sri Lanka after the European Commission's attempts to investigate alleged human rights abuses during the final stages of Sri Lanka's civil war were thwarted at every turn.
After all, the country's duty-free access to the EU under the GSP+ scheme was solely dependent on its ability to honour 27 international human rights conventions, and by breaking the rules it has lost the preference. It's a simple as that.
"The last thing the Commission wanted to do was withdraw GSP+ from Sri Lanka," Emma Ormond, international trade consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers told just-style. "It was the shining example of a trade policy regime that really, really worked."
And to its credit, the EU has done everything in its power to keep the door open on negotiations.
In a statement this week outlining its decision to suspend GSP+ benefits, it describes the move as "temporary," and says it hopes Sri Lanka "will sit with us" to address the problems identified.
The EU also says it "remains open to a full dialogue with the government of Sri Lanka," will closely monitor and regularly re-evaluate developments, and even recommend GSP+ benefits are restored "once sufficient progress has been made."
But whether Sri Lanka even wants to engage in talks to regain the concession remains to be seen, especially as it is not seen as a high priority for the new government.
The country has claimed all along that allegations about human rights abuses were unfair, and refused outright to cooperate with EC investigators.
Indeed, it seems the more Western countries impose conditions or cuts on their aid to Sri Lanka, it simply turns to allies elsewhere - including Iran, Pakistan and China who between them have provided funding for a power station, weapons and a new airport and port.
A statement from the country's foreign ministry said GSP+ discussions would be hampered by setting "unattainable targets and shifting goal posts."
And Ajitth Nivard Cabraal, the central bank governor who is also an adviser to President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government on economic affairs, told local media "We have been prepared for this for a long time. We have to deal with this risk at some stage or another."
This attitude doesn't help the country's vibrant garment industry, which is likely to see factory closures and job losses as a result.
But, equally, it won't destroy the sector either, which has built its business on skilled workers, a good track record on ethical trading and products and markets that don't simply rely on trade concessions for success.
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