Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama has handed over to the Heads of Missions of the European Union (EU) member states represented in Colombo, individually addressed letters to his counterparts in the EU member countries, together with a copy of the document captioned “Observations of the GOSL in respect of the Report on the findings of the investigation with respect to the effective implementation of certain human rights conventions in Sri Lanka”.
A statement by the Foreign Office here said that a similar letter addressed to the President of the European Commission was also handed over to the Colombo Head of Delegation of the Commission here.
Sri Lanka and the EU have been engaged in a tug of war over possible withdrawal of tariff concessions to the tune of $100 million by the latter to the textile and apparel industry in the island nation directly affecting at least one lakh workers.
On October 16, the European Commission (EC) served notice to Sri Lanka to explain by November 6 charges of human rights violations and torture in the war against the LTTE, which concluded in May or face prospects of temporary withdrawal of duty concessions on exports.
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, which concluded in May after the Tigers were militarily defeated and body of Velupillai Prabakaran found on May 19.
The EC report has been a matter of serious concern to the Mahinda Rajapaksa government given the island nation’s precarious economic situation and badly shaken economy after arrest of the richest Sri Lanka-born U.S. citizen, Raja Rajaratnam, by the U.S. authorities.
Sri Lanka is the only country in Asia and one of 14 countries in the world that enjoys this special status with the EU, in which more than 7,200 products categories are allowed duty-free into the EU.
The facility has been in force since July, 2005 and ended in December, 2008, with the new round effective from then till December 11, when a new facility came into place. However, Sri Lanka continues to enjoy these concessions until the EU probe and final decision, which is eight to nine months from now, becomes effective.
In 2008, the EU was Sri Lanka’s largest export market, accounting for 36 percent of all exports, followed by the United States with 24 percent. 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.
Central Bank of Sri Lanka Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal told a media briefing here that in the event that the EC decides not to extend the GSP plus facility to Sri Lanka a revision can take place within a six month period.
He said Sri Lanka submitted an application for renewal of this facility in September 2008 and the EU decided to extend this facility to Sri Lanka for a three year period from January 2009 subject to review.
According to Bernard Savage, Head of Delegation to Sri Lanka and the Maldives from the European Commission for Sri Lanka to be eligible for continued GSP Plus concessions, it must show some action [in enforcing the international conventions].
“This action will be detailed by the Commission when it sends its recommendations as a Sri Lanka roadmap, which will specifically address the concerns stated in the probe. I cannot at this stage say what this roadmap will be”.
In his letter to the Heads of the EU Mission, the Foreign Minister said that in view of the importance Colombo attached to her relations with the EU, the President had assigned four members of the Cabinet, namely the Ministers of Export Development & International Trade, of Disaster Management & Human Rights, of Justice & Law Reforms and Foreign Affairs to analyse the European Commission Report.
Mr. Bogollagama in conclusion expressed confidence that the observations provided by the government of Sri Lanka would be extensively examined by the European Commission and the findings reflected in its recommendation to the Council of the European Union.
This, he said, would facilitate the continued constructive engagement on the relevant issues between the Government of Sri Lanka and the institutions of the European Union.