The European Union (EU) could freeze key trade privileges to Sri Lanka worth tens of millions of euros a year because of human rights abuses, EU officials said on Monday.
The EU's executive, the European Commission, has completed a "thorough investigation into whether Sri Lanka is living up to the commitments it made to respect international human rights standards when it became a beneficiary of the EU's GSP+ trade incentive scheme", commission trade spokesman Lutz Guellner said.
"The report comes to the conclusion that there are significant shortcomings in this area and that Sri Lanka is in breach of its GSP+ commitments. We will now consult with member states on whether to prepare a proposal with a view to temporarily suspending these additional trade benefits," Mr. Guellner said.
The EU's GSP+ system allows countries which sign up to it improved trade conditions in return for pledges to live up to UN democratic and human-rights standards.
But Sri Lanka has not lived up to its pledges to protect children's rights, crack down on the use of torture and support broad-based political rights, the commission believes.
Those doubts date back to long before Sri Lanka's final campaign against the Tamil Tiger rebels, Mr. Guellner stressed. Any suspension would be meant to encourage improved human-rights activity, not a punishment for past breaches, he said.
According to EU figures, Sri Lanka exported 1.24 billion euros' worth of goods, chiefly T-shirts and fish, to the bloc in 2008 under the GSP+.
If Sri Lanka had not had GSP+ status, the EU would have levied an extra 78 million euros' worth of duties on that trade, the commission said in a statement.
EU foreign ministers are set to discuss whether to suspend Sri Lanka's GSP+ status at a meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday.
EU relations with Sri Lanka have worsened since the country fought and defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in a bloody campaign earlier this year. The EU accused Sri Lanka of breaching human rights with its campaign and urged it to talk to the rebels, calls seen in the country as expressing implicit support for the militants.