Sri Lanka industry says human rights cudgel could hurt small exporters

March 20, 2008 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s apparel industry said it was confident the government would meet European Union demands to comply with human rights laws to retain critical preferential market access to the region. . It warned that any restrictions on access to the EU market would hurt mainly small and medium enterprises which have set up factories in rural areas and generate employment.

The island’s garment industry is relying on the GSP+ scheme that gives duty free access to EU markets to keep the industry growing at a time when its biggest market, the US, has contracted.

A visiting EU team said this week that Sri Lanka must improve its human rights record and implement obligations under international agreements to renew trade concessions given by the European Union.

“As an industry we’re very compliant (with EU requirements),” Noel Priyathillake, chairman of the Sri Lanka Apparel Exporters Association said Wednesday.

“We keep on saying this is a trade matter and should not be mixed with politics. We got GSP on the basis of trade and as an industry we have complied with all their requirements.”

Sri Lanka’s clothing industry has been projecting itself as being free of child labour and maki