Govt. slams EC in 48-page response

GSP Plus Probe

The Government has slammed the European Commission (EC) probe on GSP Plus trade concessions saying it is 'politically motivated and accompanied by a high degree of prejudice'.

In a detailed response presented by the Foreign Ministry to the EC on Friday, the government also said the Commission, though claiming to be assisted by three independent external experts involved in the investigation, was the driving force behind the 'experts' who "could only assist rather than guide the EC”.
The 48-page response titled "Observations of the Government of Sri Lanka in respect of the Report on the findings of the investigation with respect to the effective implementation of certain human rights conventions in Sri Lanka" was handed over by Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama to Heads of Missions of the EU member states represented in Colombo on Friday, the final day set by the EC for observations on its report.

According to the laid-out process, the EC will now present its recommendations and a decision will be announced by next December though it will be effective, six months from then. If the European Parliament rules against extending the concessions, Sri Lanka will continue to enjoy these tax concessions till mid-2010. If approval is given, the concessions will continue till the end of 2011. EC officials in Colombo were not available for comment.

The government response was posted on the Foreign Ministry website which, local garment industrialists believes, is a tit-for-tat response after the EC published its report (based on the probe committee investigation) on its website last month.

One garment manufacturer, who was part of the team of officials, lawyers and other industry sectors that helped the government prepare the report, said there was a huge bias in the probe report. "For example the industry sent at least 15 submissions prepared with a team of lawyers and we pointed out how Sri Lanka has kept its side of the bargain in labour rights and other conventions. But these were ignored by the probe team that relied mostly on the submissions that gave a negative perspective," said the manufacturer, who declined to be named.

The Sri Lankan response said any withdrawal of the GSP Plus Scheme would lead to disruption and loss of market share. "While there will be some implications as well for European consumers in view of Sri Lanka's position as a major supplier of apparel to certain segments of the EU market, the burden of coping with such a situation will be much heavier for the government and people of Sri Lanka and would significantly affect both Sri Lanka's trade and development, as well as the pace of its post-conflict recovery," the report said.

The government also rejected the allegation of not conforming to human rights and other international conventions and noted that, 'in this situation, of the very foundation of the report being in question, it would be reasonable to keep action on the document in abeyance, while the authorities of the EC and the government continue a constructive engagement concerning the issues at hand."

Reinforcing its argument that the decision to launch an investigation was politically motivated, the report refers to a meeting between an EC Commissioner with Sri Lanka's Minister of Export Development and International Trade on March 13 last year in Brussels where the former said, "this war is never, never, never going to be solved militarily. The only possible solution is a political one. We have been telling you this for a long time. You have ignored us. We now have a powerful weapon in the GSP+, which we will not hesitate to use".

The government gave a point-by-point response to the allegations in the EC report. At one point, in response to the charge that the Code of Criminal Procedure lacks several safeguards against torture, the government said, "The Code of Criminal Procedure Act has specific procedures. Thus whenever an accused is brought before a Court he or she has the right to inform the Court of any abuse, mistreatment, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In addition, Articles 13(1) and (2) of the Constitution provide for further safeguards as regards the arrest, detention, or deprivation of personal liberty of a person arrested under the provisions of any law.

Replying to the claim that the Attorney-General's Department does not vigorously prosecute cases involving serious human rights violations, the report said that this department was mandated by the Code of Criminal Procedure Act to initiate legal proceedings in criminal matters, when the material available warranted the exercise of its statutory functions.

"Regardless of the subject matter, the Department has always exercised its functions diligently. The allegation that the Attorney General's Department does not vigorously prosecute cases involving serious human rights violations is unsubstantiated," it said.

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