The European Union (EU) has made a conditional offer to Sri Lanka to extend the GSP+ tariff concessions in garment exports, due to expire on August 15, for a limited additional period.

In a statement here, the EU said the European Commission has already informed Colombo of its readiness to maintain GSP+ preferences for a limited additional period, subject to a commitment to undertake a well-defined number of human rights related actions within a six-month timeframe beginning in July.

It further said that Colombo is to provide reassurances as to the sustainability of progress registered under the GSP plus dialogue and made it clear that GSP plus concession would not be extended automatically.

Sri Lanka and the EU have been engaged in consultations for several months now over the latter’s decision to withdraw the GSP+ concessions on the ground that Colombo is not complying with human rights laws and conventions.

On the basis of findings of the investigation it began in 2008 into charges of human rights violations and torture in the run up to Eelam War IV (August 2006-May 2009), the EU last year served a notice on Sri Lanka to bring its laws in conformity with international human rights laws and conventions or face the consequence of withdrawal of an estimated $100 million in concessions on exports for the garment and apparel industry of the island nation.

Withdrawal of GSP+ concessions is likely to affect direct employment of one lakh workers in Sri Lanka. In 2008, the EU was Sri Lanka's largest export market, accounting for 36 per cent of all exports. Garments accounting for $3.47 billion from EU markets were the top foreign exchange earner followed by remittances of $3 billion and tea at $1.2 billion.

Since it has been put on notice, Sri Lanka has been engaged in negotiations with the EU to ensure continuation of the concessions. The latest statement by the EU is seen by observers as yet another opportunity for Colombo to settle its differences over the subject of human rights.

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