The European Union has announced it will provide 210 million euros (Rs34 billion) over the next four years, doubling assistance to Sri Lanka, a statement following the visit of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said. The funds will be used to resettle displaced persons, develop poor areas and establish permanent peace. The funds of 210 million euros, which will be provided up to 2020, is double the funding received during the 2007 to 2013 period, the statement said. The EU had noted progress in Sri Lanka over the past 21 months, the statement said.
A top European Union official last week said Sri Lanka’s application to regain GSP+ trade concession is presently going through a technical process.
This was revealed when Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, met visiting Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in Brussels on Tuesday.
Mogherini, a former Italian foreign minister, has expressed support for Sri Lanka’s application to get back trade concessions, which were withdrawn over human rights abuses.
The statement quoted Mogherini as saying that positive expectations can be placed due to improved governance, democracy and reconciliation efforts by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It added it was the first time in 15 years that the head of a Sri Lanka government had visited Brussels.
Meanwhile, the Government is to hold talks with all European Union (EU) member countries in its bid to regain the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) plus trade concession as the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe is hopeful the facility will be granted to Sri Lanka by early next year.
Wickremesinghe, who met reporters in Brussels on Wednesday, said negotiations held so far with the EU on GSP plus have been successful and the Government will now enter into discussions with individual countries of the EU to seek their support for Sri Lanka. The move will also involve President Maithripala Sirisena and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera visiting more EU member countries for this purpose, the Premier said.
During the Prime Minister’s visit to Brussels, Wickremesinghe held talks with several factions representing the European Parliament. Following the discussions, the Premier said the EU has a clear picture on the government led by President Maithripala Sirisena and they are prepared to support the country and provide aid to the people.
“I have no doubt that we will be able to obtain this by next year”, he added. The Prime Minister and the delegation held talks with the representatives of the European People’s Party.
The Chair on Foreign Affairs Jacek Saryusz-Wolski led the EPP delegation in to the talks.
Christofer Fjellner – the member of the European Parliament Committee on International Trade led a delegation in to talks with the Sri Lankan contingent.
Chairman of the European People’s Party Group in the European Parliament Manfred Weber also held talks with the Sri Lankan delegation.
The PM also held discussions with the members of the EU-Sri Lanka Parliamentary Friendship Group and attended a lunch hosted by its Head Member of the European Parliament Geoffrey Van Orden.
A statement by the PM’s Office notes that the members were briefed on the possibility of regaining the GSP Plus concessions to SL in this backdrop.
On Tuesday, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, observed that Sri Lanka’s national government formed by combining the two major political parties, has steered the country to proceed in the right direction.
At a meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the Berlaymont headquarters of the European Commission (EC), Juncker said that it was the hope of the European community that Sri Lanka would continue on this path to secure a strong and stable future.
On the other hand, European Council President Donald Tusk whom the Sri Lankan Premier met on Monday also pledged the Council’s fullest support to regain the GSP plus concession for Sri Lanka. European Council President however requested Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to look into the issue of migrants entering Europe through illegal means.
The Premier vowed to set up a special task force for development with the participation of the European Council that will also contribute to solving concerns surrounding immigrants.
The task force will include ministries such as Law and Order, Resettlement, Justice and the Department of Immigration and Emigration.
Wickremesinghe extended an invite for Donald Tusk to visit Sri Lanka to observe the ongoing democratization and development in the island. Accepting the invite Tusk said he will undertake an official visit to Sri Lanka next year.
EU’s GSP+ tariff concession allowed Sri Lanka to sell over 7,000 products to EU countries tax-free with the garment industry benefiting the most.
The EU citing Sri Lanka’s alleged human rights violations suspended the GSP+ tariff concession in February 2010.
It has been estimated that if Sri Lanka successfully reverses the GSP+ suspension, the currency reserves would increase from 10-20% through access to the European market amounting to a population of over 500 million people.