US revives GSP but another hurdle remains

Sri Lanka and 130 countries have won a major battle getting back US GSP concessions, suspended since December 2010 but Colombo has another hurdle to overcome – US review of a petition on Sri Lankan worker rights and conditions.

When the GSP programme ended last December and needed further authorization by Congress, the public review of a petition filed by a US trade union on worker rights in Sri Lanka which began in August 2010 also automatically ended. The petition says freedom of association and worker rights are still issues in Sri Lanka.

“Now since GSP resumes in January next year, that review (by the US Government) will also be re-started,” said Anton Marcus, heading a top FTZ trade union workers’ movement. While earlier in the week Congress approved enabling legislation for the restoration of the GSP programme, President Barack Obama on Friday signed the bill making it law. The benefits effective 15 days (November 5, 2011) after the President signed the bill, will apply retrospectively from January 1, 2011. The concessions are available till July 31, 2013.

Sri Lanka had been affected by the loss of the concessions, which however doesn’t cover garments. Sri Lanka, however, lost its top US position as supplier of construction tyres. In this category, imports from Sri Lanka dropped by 28.5 per cent in the first seven months of this year. Sri Lanka thus fell to the number two position and China leapfrogged into the top supplier position with an import increase of more than 50 percent, according to a September 19 letter sent by ambassadors of 14 countries including Sri Lanka to US Senators last month urging the restoration of the benefits.

The group called itself the Coalition of GSP Countries. The US embassy in a statement said GSP reauthorization would become effective on Saturday, November 5, 2011 and will remain in effect through July 31, 2013. The bill also made GSP benefits retroactive to January 1, 2011. As the GSP programme was renewed retrospectively, Sri Lankan exporters will be reimbursed for tariffs paid during the gap period.

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