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Sri Lanka must take steps to hold on to EU GSP+, says former PM Wickremesinghe

·2-min read

Colombo, Jun 14 (PTI) Sri Lanka's coronavirus-ravaged economy would be further imperiled if the European Union withdraws its Generalised Scheme of Preferences (+) categorisation for goods made in the country, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has warned.

The EU's GSP removes import duties from products coming into the European market from developing countries. These tax exemptions reduce the cost of the goods compared to other imports, thereby increasing their demand.

'Our government took action to regain the GSP+ from the European Union... in 2017. This facility provides Sri Lanka with permission to export goods to Europe without taxation, which led to a boom in the garment and fishing industries. An issue has arisen in the European Parliament this week regarding the GSP+ tax concession. We have been warned that this concession will be revoked,' Wickremesinghe said in a recorded statement on Sunday.

In a resolution adopted on June 10, the European Parliament called for the repeal of Sri Lanka's Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and consideration to temporarily withdraw its access to GSP+.

The resolution noted that Sri Lanka's GSP+ categorisation was conditional on implementation of rules under international human rights treaties, in the aftermath of the 30-year-long civil war with the LTTE in the island nation.

The EU commission noted that Constitutional safeguards have been removed in the country, lack of accountability, exclusion of civil society and use of Prevention of Terrorism Act to detain activists and writers.

Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka's economic situation was so dire that it was looking to do currency swaps with countries in the region.

'At present, only the tea and garment industries are able to earn foreign exchange for our country,' the 72-year-old United National Party leader said.

Sri Lanka which is severely dependent on its tourism industry has been severely jolted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The value of the Sri Lankan rupee has depreciated by 9.87 per cent since March 1, 2020 -- when the pandemic began in the country.

Wickremesinghe said the slowing down of the tourism industry has resulted in large-scale unemployment.

'The number of people going abroad for employment has decreased. Therefore, our foreign exchange has fallen,' he said.

Wickremesinghe said 'in the face of (economic) danger, the GSP+ (issue) must not be politicised. The government should take immediate action to protect the concession. Do not add any more weight to the heavy economic burden that the people are carrying. I urge the government not to destroy the country'. PTI CORR IND AKJ IND

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