By Himal Kotelawala
In a much needed and highly anticipated diplomatic win, Sri Lanka convincingly defeated a motion to further deny its long withheld GSP+ trade concession at the European Parliament in Brussels yesterday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Harsha De Silva tweeted from Brussels that the resolution submitted by some 52 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) proposing that GSP+ should not be granted to Sri Lanka was defeated by 436 against and 119 in favour with 22 abstentions. Months of uncertainty and speculation came to an end as the results were announced around 4.30 p.m. Sri Lankan time. In their motion for a resolution, submitted just last week, the MEPs referenced a submitted report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March which noted that measures taken by Sri Lanka since October 2015 to fulfill commitments had been “worryingly slow”.
The Government of Sri Lanka had been working overtime to secure the trade concession for the country, with concerns expressed by some quarters that things might not go its way. The day before the vote was taken up, Dr. De Silva expressed confidence that Sri Lanka would come through unscathed.
“Given the objection filed at the last minute to prevent EU granting the trade concession to Sri Lanka I have been meeting with several MEPs on issues related to the matter. While we have broad support among MEPs there are some groups who are strongly objecting on various grounds.
Our Ambassador Rodney Perera and I made many calls on such MEPs to explain all the good work the government has done and is doing to improve democracy, governance, rule of law, human rights and reconciliation. By and large they are satisfied with the progress albeit some areas have been slow. I am confident we will make it through,” he posted on his official Facebook page.
The Daily FT yesterday quoted Dr. de Silva expressing confidence of wining the GSP+ vote.
A bloc of Parliamentarians from the European United Left/Nordic Green Left mounted an eleventh hour bid last week to prevent Sri Lanka being granted the import duty concessions on the basis of the Government’s slow progress on democratic and legislative reform.
In their motion for resolution, the 52 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) referenced a report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, in which the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights that measures taken by Sri Lanka since October 2015 to fulfill commitments had been “worryingly slow”.
The EU withdrew the coveted tariff concessions from Sri Lanka in 2010, in the face of the country’s deteriorating human rights record and failure to comply with its international human rights obligations under the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. After President Rajapaksa’s defeat in 2015 elections, the new Government reapplied for the import duty concession. The duty concessions make Sri Lankan exports to the 28-member European Union cheaper and more competitive. The concessions are particularly valuable to the apparel, rubber products and ceramics industries. The EU as a bloc is Sri Lanka’s main export destination, absorbing 31 % of Sri Lankan exports in 2015, and the country’s second largest trading partner after India.