The European Commission (EC) has decided to temporarily suspend the estimated US $100 million concessions on exports from the textile industry of Sri Lanka.

EU member states will now have two months to make a final determination on the decision. The EC report is based on findings of its investigation launched in 2008 into charges of human rights violations and torture in the war against the LTTE in May after the Tigers were militarily defeated and the body of Velupillai Prabakaran found on May 19.

Export Development Minister, Prof. G.L. Peiris at a news conference lamented that the European Union was penalising Sri Lanka on the GSP + for no valid reason and it was a conspiracy that could well be understood in the present day political context in the country.

As per the Minister, all dignitaries who came here to inspect the war-affected zone after peace was restored expressed satisfaction over the manner the displaced persons were looked after in the welfare camps. “If that was so with people like John Holmes, the delay in giving us that facility gives us reason to believe of a conspiracy,” Prof. Peiris asserted.

Prof. Peiris recalled that the EU Foreign Minister in March this year wanted the war stopped and both parties to talk to each other and stressed that if that condition was not adhered to, the GSP + facility would be affected.

The minister said no proud nation could succumb to such kind of dictates. “We are now exploring the possibility of alternate measures to overcome a crisis situation,” said the minister.

The EC report should be a matter of concern to the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government and the island nation’s economy. As per the Leader of the Opposition, Ranil Wickremesinghe, in case the European Union (EU) concessions are lost, 100,000 families would be without a means of income.

In 2008, the EU was Sri Lanka's largest export market, accounting for 36 per cent of all exports, followed by the United States with 24 per cent.

Garments accounting for USD $3.47 billion from EU markets were the top foreign exchange earner followed by remittances of $3 billion and tea at $1.2 billion. Sri Lanka has been given time till November 6 to submit its response to the EC report. Little wonder, the Foreign Ministry is treading carefully.

Following the adoption of the Commission proposal on Sri Lanka and GSP+ treatment, Christiane Hohmann, European Commission Spokesperson for Trade said: “The Commission completed a thorough investigation into the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, and in particular, whether Sri Lanka is living up to the commitments it made to respect international human rights standards when it became a beneficiary of the European Union’s GSP+ trade incentive scheme which provides for additional trade benefits.

The report came to the conclusion that there are significant shortcomings in this area and that Sri Lanka is in breach of its GSP+ commitments.

At the same time, the Commission is determined to pursue its dialogue with Sri Lanka on the substantive human rights problems identified in the report and the steps that Sri Lanka can take to address them. We want to work constructively with Sri Lanka on this and expect that any actions taken to improve the human rights situation will be suitably vigorous, rapid and verifiable.”

The investigation identifies significant shortcomings in respect of three UN human rights conventions – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) — such as to indicate that Sri Lanka at present is not effectively implementing them.

The investigation has relied heavily on reports and statements by UN Special Rapporteurs and Representatives, other UN bodies and reputable human rights NGOs. The Commission launched an investigation on October 14, 2008 to assess whether the national legislation of Sri Lanka incorporating three UN human rights conventions was effectively implemented. These three conventions are among the 27 international conventions that form part of the substantive qualifying criteria for GSP plus.

Separately, the European Commission has allocated another €5 million to provide humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees and host families in Sri Lanka.

At the same time, the Commission has allocated a further €1 million in humanitarian aid for Sri Lankan refugees living in camps in Tamil Nadu, India. All relief funds are channelled through the Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO).

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