Brexit won’t deprive SL of full access to GSP Plus in Britain

By Shamindra Ferdinando 

The European Union mission and the British High Commission in Colombo have assured that the Brexit wouldn’t result in the UK depriving Sri Lanka of GSP plus concessions. 

Asked whether the UK would abide by EU decision to restore GSP plus in the wake of Brexit vote, Political, Trade and Communications section head Counsellor Paul Godfrey told The Island that as the UK remained a full member of the European Union until its formal exit, London too would provide the GSP plus facility to Sri Lanka. "However, once the formal exit comes into operation, there is no certainty as yet as to what arrangements might be in place," Godfrey said.

The EU restored the GSP plus facility this week. The grouping withheld the facility in mid-August 2010 over the previous government’s refusal to accept a spate of conditions. Suspension caused heavy losses particularly to the garment sector.

UK voted on June 23, 2016 to leave the EU.

UPFA MP Padma Udaya Shantha of the Joint Opposition during ‘Vadapitiya’, a live debate on Derana this week downplayed the importance of Sri Lanka regaining GSP plus as its biggest market UK was no longer available. MP Shantha told UNP MP Kavinda Jayawardana not to brag about regaining GSP plus in the absence of lucrative UK market. The JO member pointed out that yahapalana government hadn’t taken into consideration the Brexit factor. Shantha was responding to MP Jayawardana, who explained how the EU facility could help their plans to create employment opportunities.

A spokesperson for the British HC told The Island that Prime Minister Theresa May on March 29, 2017 had initiated the process of the UK leaving the EU with the invoking of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The spokesperson said: "The UK will continue to be a full member of the EU until it leaves and will continue to abide by its obligations as a Member State of the EU until that time.  The Lisbon Treaty provides for a two year exit negotiation period; this negotiation period can be extended by agreement."

The official emphasized the requirement to fully implement the Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution meant to achieve genuine post-war national reconciliation. The BHC official explained: "GSP Plus helps developing countries grow and expand their economies while respecting international obligations on human and labour rights, environmental protection, and good governance.  The UK recognises the efforts that Sri Lanka has made to reform since 2010, and was supportive of its application to re-enter GSP+.  However, we also realise that much more needs to be done for the Sri Lankan Government to implement the commitments made in Geneva in October 2015 and more recently in March 2017, to build the foundations for enduring stability and prosperity in Sri Lanka, which benefits all its citizens.  We will continue to work with the Sri Lankan Government, and other parties, to push for greater progress."

According to the EU mission in Colombo, GSP plus would be available for Sri Lanka until 2021 depending on the status of economy. The EU stressed that in spite of resumption of GSP plus facility, Sri Lanka hadn’t fulfilled its obligations, including the replacement of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Emphasizing Sri Lanka’s responsibility to address international concerns, the EU said: "If Sri Lanka continues to make the necessary progress, then the country has the chance to benefit from the scheme until it achieves Upper Middle Income Country Status for three consecutive years. On current trends, that should mean that Sri Lanka will benefit from GSP plus until at least 2021."

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