A high level trade delegation of European Union will arrive in Sri Lanka next week to commence discussions on regaining the EU's GSP Plus trade concession.
As bilateral trade with EU crossed the US$ 5 billion mark for the first time in 2014 and after months of speculation and vibes on the coveted GSP Plus, EU has announced on 18 March the actual recovery process will commence in Colombo as early as next week.
Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen said the EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka David Daly has announced that the EU Trade Working Group (TWG), a senior delegation on GSP Plus led by a very senior trade official of EU, will be in Sri Lanka from 23 March onwards and the GSP Plus discussions will start on 24 March.
The EU Ambassador has announced this during discussions with Minister Bathiudeen on 18 March at the Export development Board (EDB) in Colombo. Joining Minister Bathiudeen were Chairman & CEO of EDB Bandula Egodage and officials of Department of Commerce.
EU also revealed that the process is not simple and much more complicated than it appears.
"EU GSP+ demands a lot of close cooperation over many months to come. GSP Plus is not something that we can tick-off as an achievement under the 100 Day program and is not a simple exercise. GSP Plus is about Sri Lanka's compliance with 27 international conventions on Human Rights-including torture, harassment, media freedom and civil & political rights guaranteed by these conventions," Daly has said.
"It's a very wide agenda. When at the final stage, when the EU is asked to make up its mind about Lanka GSP Plus and decide, it will again consider the developed ground situation here up to that moment and the day to day realities across all these 27 aspects in the country like taking a photo snapshots of each of them-and construct it and review it. If all 'snapshots' are positive then there will be no problems in GSP+ recovery. If any of these aspects seem to be negative, then it will affect the process. It's therefore very, very important to work with EU over a long period to monitor how positive or negative these "snapshots" would be," the Ambassador has explained.
"For example, the most recent report from UN, issued during the autumn is very negative and such reports will affect the recovery," he noted.
The discussion on regaining GSP+ with the EU Trade Working Group will begin on March 24 and the discussion process will continue at the Joint Commission (JC) in early April in Colombo.
The Joint Commission that follows will cover the entire spectrum of Lanka-EU affairs including political matters, trade development, and will be held on April 02 in Colombo with other government Ministries taking part.
The conclusions of the 24 March TWG rounds will be fed into 02 April Colombo JC sessions and the EU JC delegation will suggest ways of future cooperation with Sri Lanka at the end of 02 April JC.
The TWG is led by Van Heukelen, the former Head of Office of Trade Commissioner and currently the Director GSP Plus Affairs, Brussels while the JC will be led by Ugo Astuto, Director General of European Union External Action Service in Brussels.
EU TWG delegation about GSP Plus, meeting Lankan officials in Colombo on 24 March is expected to be a six-member strong team.
"It's very good that we are able to get them to come to Colombo so quickly. The TWG will be an important point of regular contact between the EU and Sri Lanka on all trade matters," the EU Ambassador has said.
Minister Bathiudeen has noted that Sri Lanka had lost considerable apparel revenue over the past few years as a result of losing GSP plus.
"A key element in the 100 Day Program of our government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is exports promotion and recovery of GSP Plus facility from the European Union. So far we have been receiving positive signs in this regard from EU and we are encouraged," the Minister has said adding that "Recovery of GSP Plus would be a great step forward for our competitive apparel sector and its global image."
"We warmly welcome the and look forward to a very constructive level of engagement. We are very keen to recover this and shall direct my officials to extend any assistance that you may require in this regard," Minister has said.
According to the Commerce Ministry statistics, Sri Lanka's bilateral trade exceeded the US$5 billion mark for the first time in 2014 and topped at $5.077 billion. The share of exports in overall trade too expanded to 69% in 2014 from 66% in 2013 and apparel was the biggest export item in 2014 at US$2.16 billion growing by 10.5%.