Engaging the international community with dignity: GSP Plus and us

Thursday, 22 October 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The Government and the apparel industry are now on the same page


The quest to regain GSP Plus has been restored after five long years. It was in the year 2010 that we in the FT provided space for this debate, when our then regular columnist, Chartered Accountant, Ranel Wijesinha, founder of The Thought Leadership Forum, contributed an article titled ‘Engaging the International Community with Dignity.’ We thought it appropriate to republish the article of 2010, and contacted Ranel Wijesinha who had this to say:Untitled-4


Afghanistan insights and coalition forces

“I am pleased indeed that the Government and the apparel industry are now on the same page. My motivation to write in 2010, five years ago, was driven by the fact that, I had been to Afghanistan on an assignment on behalf of the Asian Development Bank, in 2007/8 and thought then and think today that if the world got together through the ‘Afghanistan Compact,’ to get Afghanistan out of a rut that it is yet in, they should have come together for us in Sri Lanka, too, on many fronts, after we won the war in 2009. Instead, they pulled out the plug between GSP and us. I did not think it was right, and that was the thrust of my article.”


Joseph Stiglitz, and his proposal about a Marshal Plan for the Middle East

“When the leaders of the Sri Lankan apparel industry themselves, were somewhat lukewarm about having the restoration of GSP plus discussed and debated publicly with me as a Moderator, in fora that I was prepared to organise and host, and were reluctant to lobby the Government to ‘Engage the International Community with Dignity’ I wrote a sequel, in my column in your paper. I titled it ‘USA, Iraq, Afghanistan and us’ and used that as a basis to urge the then Government to in turn urge the EU, to look at GSP again. I referred to Joseph Stiglitz, the former Chief Economist of the World Bank who in his book the 3 Trillion-Dollar War said and I quote ‘We could have had a Marshall Plan for the Middle East or the developing countries, that might actually have succeeded in winning the hearts and minds of the people there. Even more modest ambitions could have been achieved for a fraction of the costs spent on Iraq. This Stiglitz said in 2008.’”


Sour grapes are in the past

Wijesinha went on to add that “ I am encouraged that a wide cross section of people I speak with today, including key persons from the apparel industry, speak passionately about the benefits to the industry and the country, much unlike the ‘sour grapes’ posture that the same people adopted, only to identify and be part of the then Government’s stand which was ‘we do not need GSP,’ ‘we need to find other markets,’ ‘apparel is not a significant net contributor’ and much more. It was of course the same tune that was sung, when the tourism industry lamented about the need to boost tourist arrivals.”


Afghanistan compact, Sri Lanka compact and commercial diplomacy

“My 2010 article as a flashback to GSP Plus and us highlights the need for us in Sri Lanka, to propose a ‘Sri Lanka Compact’ like the ‘Afghanistan Compact’ that former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair gave leadership to, well over a decade ago. I also believe we should have a School of Commercial Diplomacy, an initiative USAID was to assist in and had pledged a large sum of money in 2001, before the then UNP Government was returned. This pledge can be restored too. I wrote to the Prime Minister with both suggestions in August on the day he took oaths as the Prime Minister, while Tony Blair was yet enjoying our hospitality in sunny Sri Lanka, and have also sent a copy to Dr. Harsha De Silva when he took oaths later, as the Honourable Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. I am confident something good will happen soon.”