Ugo Astuto, Director and Deputy Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific, European External Action Service: Interview

Ugo Astuto, Director and Deputy Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific, European External Action Service

Interview: Ugo Astuto

How would you rate Sri Lanka’s progress on human rights following its decades-long civil war?

UGO ASTUTO: The progress has been remarkable. Sri Lanka co-sponsored a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in September 2015. This is only the starting point for what needs to be a sustained path of reconciliation. There must be concerted action to address the root causes of the conflict, including assuring minority groups that they can exercise some control over their affairs and ensuring equal status for all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, language or background. There will be challenges. Establishing a process of accountability for crimes committed during the civil war that can act as a basis for a nationwide process of healing will be essential.

How does the EU gauge which countries are eligible for trade concessions?

ASTUTO: The Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) tool is the EU’s flagship trade concession for promoting international human rights, governance, environmental and labour standards. It exists purely because of the EU’s belief in and commitment to the universality of those rights. Sri Lanka’s intention to reapply for GSP+ is a welcome signal of the government’s commitment to meeting the necessary standards. I see that as good news for all Sri Lankans.

Countries with gross national income per capita of less than $4125 are classified by the World Bank as lower or lower-middle income, and eligible to apply for GSP+. Sri Lanka is in that category. The success of any application will depend on the ratification and implementation of 27 international conventions relating to the areas mentioned. Sri Lanka lost access to GSP+ in 2010 as it did not implement three pivotal conventions: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The EU is working closely with the Sri Lankan government to ensure the effective implementation of all 27 conventions. When it is clear that irrefutable progress to effective implementation is being made, the EU will welcome Sri Lanka’s application for GSP+.

What can be done to improve bilateral trade volumes between the EU and Sri Lanka?

ASTUTO: The EU is already Sri Lanka’s number one trading partner and the biggest importer of Sri Lankan goods and services, at more than €2.5bn per year. The EU is the fourth-largest exporter to Sri Lanka. The government’s increased openness to international investment and rising international trade can be an important stimulus. As already mentioned, the government has also communicated its intention to reapply for access to the GSP+. If this is successful, its exports to the EU will be more competitive as they will be duty free, which will contribute significantly to increasing trade volumes.

How active is the European private sector in South Asia at the moment?

ASTUTO: In Sri Lanka the EU private sector is a major player in several sectors, including garments, industrial tyres, IT and business process outsourcing (BPO), and tourism. Sri Lanka’s new government has given high priority to setting up financial and logistics hubs and expanding the country’s road and housing infrastructure. All of these are potential opportunities that European companies can pursue.

The EU continues to provide development assistance to Sri Lanka, principally focussed on helping to reduce poverty in the country. The most obvious way that this can be achieved is by increased economic growth, led by the private sector, that will generate jobs and further opportunities. An EU co-financed trade-related technical assistance project was recently signed which includes support for development of the IT, BPO and processed food sectors.

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The Report: Sri Lanka 2016

Investment & Trade chapter from The Report: Sri Lanka 2016

Cover of The Report: Sri Lanka 2016

The Report

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