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These benefits will be withdrawn on August 15 unless Sri Lanka makes a written commitment by July 1, according to the EU.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.


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

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