Garment industry on pins over GSP crisis

The government is preparing a response to a damning report from the European Commission on implementation of international human rights conventions – an issue linked to the request for fresh GSP+ concessions, an official said yesterday.

The official, who did not wish to be named, downplayed the report saying it was a preliminary one based on submissions which were ‘exaggerated and unreasonable’.

Media Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa told reporters on Thursday that the government was yet to receive a report from the EC but Export Development and International Trade Ministry Secretary S. Ranugge, whose ministry is handling the GSP issues, confirmed to the Sunday Times that the government had received a report from the EC. He declined further comment.

Industry sources said the 140-page report was adverse on the country’s human rights situation. “It’s an adverse report prepared by three experts and based on submissions by various groups from here and abroad,” one industry source said. He added, however, a fuller report was due in October and until then no final decision was expected from the EC. “The EC is expecting the government to respond to the comments and submissions in the latest report,” he said.

The source said the EC preliminary document quoted extensively from a report by the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) which had urged the government to fully implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), one of three international human rights conventions that the EC is insisting on as a condition to extending the GSP+ concessions. CPA Director Rohan Edrisinha, asked to comment on CPA submissions to the EC inquiry on GSP+, said what they had sent was a critique that was publicly released last year at an event held in association with the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF), the umbrella garment industry body.

“We did this report to help in paving the way for Sri Lanka to get these concessions and pointed out some of the ways that this could be done, among which is not only ratifying but also fully implementing the ICCPR,” he said.

Mr. Edrishinha said he had not seen the EC report. The industry source said the recent problems faced by CPA Executive Director Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, including his brief detention and questioning by police officers at the Bandaranaike International Airport this week, were connected to the CPA submissions to the EC probe.

“Exporters are concerned mostly because of the lack of clarity about the GSP+ situation. We need to know what the real situation is, to be able to prepare for it,” Exporters Association Vice President Lasantha Wickremasekara said.

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