The European Union (EU) has noted that importance of Sri Lanka making prompt and concrete progress in fulfilling international commitments on human rights and labour rights and environmental protection in order to obtain the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+).
A statement issued by the EU office in Colombo today said that the second meeting of the Working Group on Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights under the European Union-Sri Lanka Joint Commission was held in Colombo 13-14 March 2017.
At the meeting the parties discussed Sri Lanka’s application under the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) which is currently under consideration by the European Parliament and the Council. The two institutions have until mid-May to discuss the European Commission’s assessment and adopt their position. Therefore, the EU drew attention to the importance of Sri Lanka making prompt and concrete progress in fulfilling international commitments on human rights and labour rights and environmental protection.
The EU delegation to the Working Group called on Prime Minister Ranil Wickeremesinghe and also met with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who confirmed their political commitment to move forward on reforms in sectors covered by the Working Group.
Both sides reaffirmed their joint commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights domestically and globally and to collaborate on the effective implementation of international human rights instruments.
The EU recognised the progress made by the Government of Sri Lanka in various areas, including the ratification of the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the passing of the Right to Information Act, legislation on the Office on Missing Persons and symbolic steps taken to advance reconciliation.
There was a detailed exchange of information on many important ongoing reforms, such as Constitution-making, as well as replacing the Prevention of Terrorism Act and amending the Code of Criminal Procedure Act to bring them in line with international standards. Both sides recognised the need for further progress on reconciliation. They agreed that the full implementation of the UN Human Rights Council resolution of October 2015 remains a priority. The EU reiterated its readiness to continue supporting the Government in its reforms, including with financial assistance.
There was also discussion of the progress made and the challenges ahead in maintaining the freedoms of expression and of the media, strengthening the civil society, advancing the rights of women and children, respecting non-discrimination on any grounds, addressing the rights of minorities, accelerating the return of land, labour rights, and implementing the treaty obligations and the rule of law. The EU stressed the importance of addressing areas of concern, especially torture, violence against women and the need to combat corruption.
The delegation of the European Union was led by Ms. Paola Pampaloni, Deputy Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific Department of the European External Action Service.
The delegation of Sri Lanka was led by Mr. A.L.A. Azeez, Senior Director-General for European Union of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka. The conclusions and recommendations of the Working Group will be reported to the EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission to be held later this year. The Joint Commission will then assess the progress achieved since today’s meeting.
Meanwhile the Foreign Ministry said that Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama accompanied by Ambassador Rodney Perera met with European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström at the European Commission in Brussels.
The Minister discussed with Commissioner Malmström prospects for increasing bilateral trade and investment from the European Union with the enhanced opportunities expected following the Commission recommendation to restore the GSP+ facility to Sri Lanka. It was noted that bilateral trade turn over currently stands at approximately USD 5 billion annually and the EU accounts for 36% of Sri Lanka’s total exports last year.
Minister Samarawickrama discussed the prospects for increasing investment and invited European companies to do business with Sri Lanka. He stated that there are many opportunities to invest in infrastructure development and also in the agriculture and dairy sector with the possibility of joint ventures. The Minister referred to the resumption of the EU Sri Lanka Investment Dialogue in January this year after a lapse of many years. Commissioner Malmström expressed confidence that European investors would increasingly look at the favourable opportunities available in Sri Lanka in the context of the positive steps taken by the Government to create an investor friendly climate. It was noted that a high level delegation from the European Investment Bank (EIB) will visit Colombo at the end of this month to explore further avenues of economic cooperation between the EU and Sri Lanka. (Colombo Gazette)