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GSP plus extended amidst spiraling rights violations

Despite Sri Lanka refusing to cooperate with European Union’s (EU) investigations into human rights violations, it was announced that a European trade concession scheme for the garments industry in Sri Lanka would be extended for a year whilst the probe take place.


The Generalised System of Preferences Plus (GSP Plus) which allows Sri Lanka to export 7,200 items duty free into the EU and is credited with helping to boost Sri Lankan exports, had been due to expire at the end of the year, and the EU recently warned it may not renew the concessions scheme after it expires in December because of continuing human rights abuses stemming from Sri Lanka's civil war.


In October, the EU proposed a probe into Sri Lanka’s human rights violations to determine the latter’s eligibility for GSP plus.According to the latest announcement, the GSP plus concessions will remain in place while the EU completes the human rights probe, even though the Sri Lankan state has made it clear that it will not cooperate with the probe.


Sri Lanka’s Commerce Department said that an extension of GSP plus had been confirmed  and will be available for local exporters at least until mid 2009 - if not longer.


Sri Lankan officials say the facility will continue to be available for an additional six months, after the investigation, even if the findings go against Sri Lanka.


“According to their regulations, during the period of investigation, even in 2009, the GSP plus will continue to be available for Sri Lanka. The investigation itself should finish within a 1-year period,” said the Director General of Commerce, Chulabhaya Magedaragamage.


“But, even if the investigation ends well before 1-year and the findings are negative, we will still be given a 6-month ‘notice period’ before the GSP plus is withdrawn. So the GSP plus will be available at least up to around middle of next year, but probably longer,” said Mr Magedaragamage.


Secretary for the ministry of export development and international trade, S Ranugge, whilst confirming that Sri lanka will continue to enjoy the trade concessions until the investigation is completed, said the government would not cooperate with investigators if the EU sends them to Sri Lanka.


"That has been communicated to the E.U. by the government. Sri Lanka will cooperate with the investigations, but not with the investigators," Ranugge said.


In October, Minister of Export Development and International Trade, G.L Pieris rejected the probe demand, saying it was a betrayal of the country.


"What the cabinet has decided is not to agree with investigations that are required by the EU to renew GSP Plus," Peiris told reporters at a press conference held on October 20, at the Central Bank to brief the media on the GSP Plus Scheme.


Pieris added that the Government will not betray Sri Lanka's sovereignty to obtain economic benefits from other countries.


"The Cabinet has decided to reject the investigation and we have instructed our Ambassador in Brussels to inform relevant authorities on our decision. We are ready for open discussions with the Commission regarding the issue,"


An E.U. spokesperson in Colombo said the rights probe started in October and must be completed within a year.


"We cannot say it will be six months or a year. Until a decision is made afterward, Sri Lanka will continue with GSP Plus," the spokesperson said on condition of anonymity.

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