SL on track for GSP Plus but a long way to go: EU Envoy

Sri Lanka has not yet made a formal application for the GSP Plus trade facility and “there is still a lot that has to be done” before it can be considered, said Ambassador and Head of Delegation to the European Union (EU) to Sri Lanka David Daly.

Similarly the country has made advances on governance, human rights and reconciliation, but there remains “an awful lot” to do in transforming “the many excellent commitments” made over the past few months to progress on the ground.

“If you look at significant things like the commitments made in Geneva, the commitments made in the joint resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, which is a major step forward, there you see the sort of things we mean,” he said in an interview with the Sunday Times.

This week, a Working Group on Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights was inaugurated under the EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission. The first meeting was held on Thursday.

Issues related to governance, rule of law and human rights have been sticking points in Sri Lanka’s pursuit of the GSP Plus facility.

The two sides had a discussion in some detail on a wide range of issues, Mr Daly said. “The new Government came in with a very strong policy of improving governance, human rights issues and reconciliation,” he pointed out. “I think that greatly helped us to set up this new Working Group.”

“It was very important to establish this new meeting forum on important, sensitive issues and the quality of our discussions was very good,” he said. “We appreciate very much the preparation that went into it.”

Mr Daly said, accountability, in the EU’s view, was essential to upholding the whole question of the rule of law and to instilling confidence amongst all communities across Sri Lanka, within the justice system. He was responding to a question on how important an independent war crimes mechanism was to the EU.

“Accountability is essential and mechanisms to ensure that are needed, and those mechanisms themselves should be credible,” he continued. “Otherwise, all of that breaks down.

There are extremely serious allegations out there in relation to aspects of the war, how it was conducted and so on. It’s important that serious allegations are subjected to serious investigations because, otherwise the allegations won’t go away.”

The Working Group meeting this week was “extremely helpful” in the GSP Plus process, the Ambassador said. “We had a good, open and frank discussion,” he averred.

“We received a lot of information, both orally and in writing. Our colleagues from Brussels need to go back and digest that, and they need to share it with other branches of services.”

The “flow of good news and progress” needs to continue in Sri Lanka, he added. “It’s not possible to say at this stage, or, exactly at this moment it will happen,” he said referring to the granting of the GSP Plus.

“There are 27 international conventions that are critical for the GSP Plus. Continued progress is needed across the board on those conventions. This is the most important thing.”

It must also be remembered that GSP Plus is a trade mechanism, he explained. It is an additional trade benefit that the EU gives to developing countries.

“Anything that happens in the trade world has to comply with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and has to be justified afterwards to the WTO,” he said. “The EU itself cannot do just whatever it likes. We are subject to international law on trade and must comply with it.”

“Amongst other implications of that are, we must do a very serious and very objective assessment of the situation in any country that is applying for GSP Plus,” he asserted.

“Secondly, the UN system plays a very important role. Every time there is a new international convention, there is a treaty monitoring body that is established. This means there is somebody internationally responsible assessing whether parties to the convention are complying with it. We are obliged to take those things into account. This means there is a very important role played by the UN and the UN system.”

“A practical consideration that comes from this is, next month, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid (bin Ra’ad) will visit Sri Lanka,” Mr Daly said. “Obviously, the more that visit is positive on Sri Lanka, the more helpful that is also for the GSP Plus process.”

One of the things discussed at the Working Group meeting was also that Sri Lanka has been open to inviting, and has a series of standing invitations, to Special Rapporteurs from the UN system to come and look at various issues. “Those visits and their reports are very, very important for the GSP Plus as well as anything else,” he held.

When a formal application is received, the European Commission, together with the External Action Service (the EU diplomatic service), has a legal obligation to make a report and assessment of the application within six months. “If our assessment is positive, then that becomes a proposal both to the 28 Governments of the member States in the Council and also to the European parliament,” he elaborated.

“Obviously, a successful application is one that is very well prepared in advance, where there is an awful lot of joint preparation done. That makes it easier at the next stages because we become the advocates, because it then becomes our proposal to the member States.”

It was crucial, therefore, for Sri Lanka to get the timing right when making a formal application for the GSP Plus. “That formal clock of six months hasn’t started yet,” the Ambassador said.

“It’s very important to get that timing right because six months is a legal obligation. Once you start the clock, you can’t stop it. You need to make sure things look in good shape.”

The creation of the Working Group on Governance, Human Rights and Reconciliation is part of preparatory work, and of continuing dialogue.

On the prohibition of fish exports from Sri Lanka to the EU on allegations of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, Ambassador Daly said, “there are still a number of things that need to be done” before the ban could be lifted.

“We follow very closely, particularly the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs (part of the European Commission) with the Department of Aquatic Resources and Fisheries that these things are being done,” he explained.

“All of that is to see at what point internal steps can be taken in relation to the ban. We can’t say yet exactly when things will happen because it depends on the ongoing progress being maintained. But we are clearly in a new situation in that we recognize a lot of progress has been made by Sri Lanka in the course of the last year.”

“We need to ensure that that progress is sustainable and is consolidated and to see that there are number of other things that need to fall into place,” he said. “So it’s going in a very good direction.”