The European Commission (EC) this week said 16 countries, including Sri Lanka, have qualified for the GSP+ scheme that will allow duty-free exports into the EU from 2009 to 2011.

Sri Lanka's status as a GSP+ beneficiary, though, depends on the outcome of an ongoing investigation into alleged human rights violations.

But, even if the investigation goes against Sri Lanka, a six month 'notice period' will be given before the GSP+ is withdrawn. 

Therefore, trade and Government sources say the GSP+ will be available for Sri Lanka at least until October 2009.   

"While the investigations are ongoing the countries continue to receive preferential access, but depending on the findings they could be withdrawn from the scheme," said the EC. 

Sri Lanka and El Salvador will be withdrawn from the GSP+ scheme if the investigation finds that international conventions have not been effectively implemented, the EC said. 

The 16 countries that qualified are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Georgia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Sri Lanka and Venezuela. 

The EC has said its investigation, which was launched in October this year, should be completed within one year but may even be extended. 

Sri Lankan government sources have said that even if the GSP+ is withdrawn in 2009, the country can re-apply for the GSP+ in mid-2010.

The Government had pledged a US$150m "financial support package" for industries including garments should the GSP+ not be renewed this month.

Its current GSP+ scheme, which stands for Generalised System of Preferences, allows the country to export around 7,200 items to the European Union (EU) duty free. This was subject to extension by the end of this year.

By Dilshani Samaraweera.