ECONOMYNEXT – A European delegation which was in Sri Lanka to monitor the country’s compliance on key international conventions in order to continue a trade concession said it “significantly” focused on non-discrimination and the ongoing use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in its discussion with the government and other stakeholders.
The five-member EU delegation met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, foreign, finance, and justice ministers, as well as members of the opposition and civil society including human rights defenders, trade unions, and employers to assess the progress of Sri Lanka’s pledges to comply with 27 international conventions in return for the Generalized Scheme of Preference Plus (GSP+) trade concession.
The visit comes after the European parliament in June adopted a resolution to consider withdrawing the concession that is estimated to be worth well above 500 million US dollars.
“There was a significant focus on non-discrimination, the respect for the rights of all communities in Sri Lanka, the ongoing use of the PTA, impediments to the exercise of fundamental freedoms, and the development of draft legislation on Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs),” the delegation said in a statement.
“The meetings also reviewed drugs policy, environment and climate change, as well as corruption.”
The EU team’s monitoring mission was to assess if the bloc should withdraw the country’s largest trade concession that has helped the island nation’s top export garments, amid renewed concerns over human rights abuses against ethnic minorities.
“The effective implementation of international commitments forms the basis of Sri Lanka’s privileged access to the EU market,” EU Ambassador Denis Chaibi said in the statement.
“We have been working together with the Sri Lankan government since 2015 to advance the issues of concern and welcome the continued engagement.”
“The monitoring and engagement with the government of Sri Lanka will be the subject of regular reports to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.”
The European parliament’s key demand was for Sri Lanka to repeal the PTA, arguing that the legislation has been systematically used for arbitrary arrests and the detention of Muslims and minority groups in Sri Lanka.
International rights groups have asked the EU to demand Sri Lanka to comply with its obligations to continue the trade concession.
President Rajapaksa during the EU meeting has said that committees have been appointed and the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General have been instructed to study the reports of the committees. Immediate steps will also be taken to amend the necessary provisions of the PTA, he had said.
“President Rajapaksa also stated that the country would abide by the agreements on human rights in the world today,” the President’s Media Division (PMD) said in a statement on Monday soon after the meeting took place.
The EU is the second largest export destination for Sri Lankan products, and GSP+ has helped the country’s exporters to consolidate their position.
Around 7,000 Sri Lankan export items were covered under GSP+, of which around 60% were apparel, 11% were rubber products, 9% were gems and jewellery, 3% agriculture and around 17% other products, including wood products, toys and tableware. (Colombo/Oct07/2021)