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COLOMBO – A delegation from the European Union (EU) has this week arrived in Sri Lanka to review the country’s eligibility for export trade sweeteners via the generalised scheme of preferences plus (GSP+). The visit follows the adoption of a resolution by the EU Parliament in mid-June calling on the European Commission to consider temporary withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status. The resolution noted Sri Lanka’s failure to adopt and enact human rights reforms and repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

GSP is a scheme that removes import duties from products heading into the EU market from vulnerable developing countries. Losing the facility could mean a loss of several hundred $million in export revenues for Sri Lanka.

The EU delegation includes senior adviser on trade and sustainable development, Nikolaos Zaimis, European External Action Service (EEAS) head of South Asia division, Ionnis Giogkarakis-Argyropoulos, GSP trade preferences coordinator, Guido Dolara, head of European Commission directorate-general for employment, social affairs and inclusion, Lluis Prats, and EEAS desk officer for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Monika Bylaite.

During its week-long stay, the delegation will meet representatives from the government, the private sector, the civil society and trade unions before submitting a report to the European Parliament.

It will assess Sri Lanka’s compliance with 27 international conventions related to GSP+, including human rights, labour, environment and good governance, according to Sri Lankan media reports.

A press notice from Clean Clothes said: “In 2020, the European Union noted that Sri Lanka needed to make more efforts to improve collective bargaining, freedom of association and end anti-union discrimination. But despite this call, our concerns were not properly address and still remain. Added to these concerns are the many instances of unpaid wages for workers during the pandemic along with other Covid-19 related issues. We stand in solidarity with the trade unions in Sri Lanka and echo their demands.”

These demands include that the EU must make it clear that Sri Lanka must change its labour laws to conform to ILO standards (ILO Convention 98). They also demand the EU ask the Sri Lankan government to support workers and end harassment of trade unions. On the issue of Covid, they request that the EU must ask the government to ensure all workers in the apparel industry are treated equitably and protected from the pandemic.

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