- Says failure would see sharp drop in exports, especially apparel, and currency plunging to Rs. 300 per dollar
By Asiri Fernando
|UNP Leader and former Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe
UNP Leader and former Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday stressed it was the Government’s duty to retain the European
Union’s GSP+ trade concessions and warned failure may put the $ 5 billion apparel industry at risk and compound the ongoing economic crisis.
“If we are to protect the apparel industry, we have to take measures to ensure that the GSP Plus concessions are retained. It is the Government’s duty to retain the GSP+, not to throw it away. If (they) do that, there will be a collapse of our economy,” Wickremesinghe stated, urging the Government to not play politics with the matter.
Wickremesinghe was responding to the EU Parliament last week, adopting a resolution calling on the EU Commission to consider a temporary withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status over the Government’s failure to adopt and enact human rights reforms, the arbitrary arrest of civil society activists, lawyers, writers and poets, and repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), among other concerns.
The EU raising the red flag on GSP Plus commitments that Sri Lanka entered into in 2017 comes in the backdrop of the apparel industry indicating reservations over achieving the $ 6 billion export target set by the Government for 2021.
In March, the Joint Apparel Association (JAAF) told Daily FT that given the challenges the industry is facing, the set target was “a bit too ambitious” as apparel exports dropped in 2019 and 2020.
Wickremesinghe also said: “The EU Parliament has warned us that we will risk losing the GSP+ benefits if we do not conform to the agreements that were entered into in 2017.” He recalled that the previous Government had put much effort into reviving the concessions following negotiations with the EU.
The former PM argued that with overseas employment opportunities declining, the tourism and fishing industries devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the MV X-Press Pearl disaster, tea and apparel exports will be Sri Lanka’s main means of earning foreign exchange. Wickremesinghe pointed out that if the GSP+ concessions were to be revoked, the rupee will depreciate further and unemployment will rise.
“The rupee will depreciate to about 300 to a dollar (from the current level of 200), and we won’t be able to carry on. Think of the people and the cost of living. If the Government is seriously interested in the people and their welfare, they will not play politics and ensure we retain GSP+,” Wickremesinghe urged.