It’s a decisive day for Sri Lanka as the country’s application for the Generalised System of Preferences plus (GSP+) tariff concession for European markets will be taken up for vote at the European Union (EU) Parliament in Brussels later today. Months of uncertainty and speculation will come to an end, one way or the other, as the resolution submitted by 52 members of the EU Parliament (MEPs) is put to a vote that many hope will be in Sri Lanka’s favour.
A bloc of European United Left/Nordic Green Left MEPs just last week made an effort to prevent Sri Lanka being granted the import duty concessions arguing that the Government’s progress on democratic and legislative reform was too slow for their liking. As reported in this newspaper, in their motion for resolution, the 52 MEPs referenced a report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva last month, in which the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights noted that measures taken by Sri Lanka since October 2015 to fulfill commitments had been “worryingly slow”.
Sri Lankan Government, despite its many flaws at home, has been working overtime to secure the GSP+ concession for the country and this week too is busy taking steps to clarify any issues raised by MEPs in Brussels. For this the so-called National Unity Government must be commended, even if things are not looking up for Sri Lanka at the moment. Today’s vote, as reported in yesterday’s Daily FT, could strike a deathblow for the country’s GSP+ hopes, despite the Government having taken several important steps in the past few days to indicate that it was still committed to its reform agenda: such as the Cabinet approving the Counter Terrorism Act framework that will replace the draconian PTA and the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code.
Whether those developments are too little too late, however, remains to be seen, and we will have the answer soon. It cannot be said with certainty which way the vote will go in the 376-member strong EU Parliament, but there is a slim chance the resolution will not find wide support. Even though a group of members of the EU Parliament’s Trade Committee wrote to the Prime Minister urging the Government to meet their conditions, the letter also added, somewhat encouragingly, that the EU “understands the complexity of the issues involved and the need to enter into wide consultations on the more sensitive aspects, it is critical that Sri Lanka delivers on its commitments within clearly established timelines.”
It is hoped that the EU takes Sri Lanka’s stated commitments seriously and votes in the island nation’s favour today - and in the event Sri Lanka does end up winning the concession, what would be even greater for Sri Lankans to see is the Government taking action because it is the right thing to do rather than being prompted by incentives from the international community. It goes without saying that that would be the real win.