Sri Lanka rejects `insulting` EU trade conditions

Last Updated: Thursday, June 24, 2010 - 19:12

Colombo: Sri Lanka on Thursday trashed "insulting"
EU demands that it make a written undertaking to improve its
human rights record in exchange for trade benefits.

Government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said Colombo
also rejected a July 1 deadline issued by the European Union
to agree to a host of other conditions to qualify for
preferential trade tariffs.
"These conditions are unacceptable. They are an insult to
every citizen of this country," Rambukwella told reporters in
Colombo. "We must put the EU demand in the dustbin."

He said the EU conditions affected internal security. The
27-nation bloc wanted Sri Lanka to relax some of the
provisions of its draconian Prevention of Terrorism law, which
was not possible, he added.

The EU`s executive arm, the European Commission, has
insisted on "significant improvements on the effective
implementation of the human rights conventions" for the island
to continue enjoying the trade benefits.

The EU trade scheme gives 16 poor nations preferential
access to the vast European market in return for following
strict commitments on a variety of social and rights issues.

These benefits will be withdrawn on August 15 unless Sri
Lanka makes a written commitment by July 1, according to the
EU.
Sri Lanka`s hawkish government faces the prospect of a UN
investigation over its conduct in a war against Tamil Tiger
separatist rebels, who were finally defeated in May 2009.

External Affairs Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris said
President Mahinda Rajapakse "was firmly of the view that he
cannot bow down to a process of winning trade concessions at
any cost".

"We cannot possibly surrender the decision-making powers
to any foreign government," Peiris said. "We are not hardening
our stand towards the EU. We are just stating facts."

Government forces have been accused of a host of rights
violations including the indiscriminate killing of thousands
of Tamil civilians, the murder of aid workers and the
execution of surrendering rebels.

Peiris said Sri Lanka`s foreign reserves stood at a
historic high of USD six billion, while the island`s gains
from EU preferential tariffs amounted to about USD 150 million
annually.

The island`s clothing industry is the main beneficiary,
using the concessions to sell to high-street retailers in
Europe.

"Sri Lankan entrepreneurs can overcome this situation
through their creativity. Sri Lankan trade and industry has
enough resilience to bounce back," Peiris said.

PTI



First Published: Thursday, June 24, 2010 - 19:12

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