Some critical economic and political issues relating to Sri Lanka
were played out in world capitals this week. These related to economic talks with the European Union, bi-lateral talks with India
and mending fences with the United States
Important in economic terms was talks in Brussels
on the revision and updating of the European Union`s scheme of Generalised System of Preferences or the GSP Plus. The EU wants to withdraw this facility from August this year. It says the Government had not complied with eligibility criteria on the implementation of human rights conventions. The withdrawal would put thousands in the apparel industry out of employment with the closure of factories.
The Government despatched a high-powered delegation to Brussels. It was led by Attorney General Mohan Peiris and comprised, among others, External Affairs Ministry Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe and Sri Lanka`s European Union Ambassador Ravinatha Ariyasinha.
A statement issued by the Sri Lankan side did not reflect a rosy picture. However, it did highlight the issues and the way they presented them to EU officials. The thrust was that both the Government and the people were `increasingly focusing on reaping the peace dividend, while endeavouring for restorative justice to further strengthen national amity.` The regime of Emergency Regulations considerably amended or repealed. The Commission on Lessons Learnt and National Reconciliation were other steps. As a new measure, the Government completed a National Action Plan on Human Rights (NAPHR) together with civil society. This will go before Cabinet shortly.
However, UPFA leaders including President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who received a personal briefing from the Sri Lankan delegation had little or no cause to be pleased. During their talks with Dr. Kristalina Georgiva, European Commissioner for International Co-operation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, she had fired volley after volley of questions at the Sri Lanka delegation raising even questions on inability of some lawyers
to practice in courts.
The remarks prompted Attorney General Peiris to name two Colombo lawyers and say they were behind this propaganda against the Government.
Peiris was compelled to explain that the purpose of the delegation`s visit was to continue the ongoing dialogue with the EU more than an immediate reversion of the EU decision to withdraw the GSP Plus. He was to caution that a delegation from Sri Lanka would not come again to Brussels for talks if such an atmosphere were to prevail. The contentious mood was reflected in a remark made by another member of the Sri Lanka delegation. He said if oil prices were to come down further, it would offset the losses the Government would sustain from the withdrawal of the GSP Plus scheme.
That abrupt note on which the Brussels dialogue ended may not spell the end of the GSP Plus issue. However, it does signify that the diplomatic process to win the facility will be long drawn, perhaps even after August when the withdrawal takes effect. Some Government leaders opine that the mood at the recent round of talks was tougher than previous occasions. To say the least, the apparel industry, one of top money
spinners for the economy faces a serious threat.