available languages: english June 24, 2016

Sri Lanka’s readmission to the European Union’s General Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) is on the horizon, as the island nation’s democratic reform process gains momentum.

Raising awareness of GSP+ and its nexus with international human rights obligations is a key objective of Democracy Reporting International’s latest project, Accompanying Sri Lanka’s Democratic Transition. DRI launched the project’s first activity, the GSP+ Information Session, in cooperation with the European Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka (ECCSL) on 21st June in Colombo.

The roundtable discussion brought together key stakeholders in order to broaden their understanding of GSP+, discuss strategies to promote human rights in the context of GSP+ and to begin a process of defining roles and needs during the application process and in maintaining Sri Lanka’s membership, if successful.

Just under 50 participants from state institutions, diplomatic missions and international organisations, civil society and the business community took part in the session. Speakers included prominent authorities on GSP+ such as Sri Lanka’s Deputy Foreign Minister, the Director General of Commerce, the EU Delegation to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission Sri Lanka. Their speeches underlined the importance of the EU market for Sri Lanka, the opportunities and challenges that readmission to GSP+ presents, and the 27 international conventions to which Sri Lanka must adhere as part of the Scheme.

Participants welcomed the roundtable as a platform not only for raising awareness of GSP+ but also for debate about the Scheme as a framework for democratic and rights-based reforms. Independent bodies and civil society expressed that they found the event beneficial for better identifying their role in the readmission process; for instance, in supporting and monitoring government action.

In addition to raising awareness of GSP+, the session gave a promising outlook for Sri Lanka’s readmission to the Scheme. Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Harsha de Silva confirmed that Sri Lanka’s application would be formally presented to the EU by the end of June, with a decision from the EU within 10 months of submission. Adding to this, representatives of the EU Delegation welcomed the positive reforms taking place under the current government, and its plans to implement the international obligations required to achieve and maintain GSP+ status.