Sri Lanka sets up WTO backed mechanism for export compliance

WTO -Trade

(PRESS RELEASE) – Recording a pioneering initiative in Sri Lanka’s exports history, the country is moving to set up the first ever national level mechanism to overcome a daunting modern global trade issue it faces; Sanitary and Phytosanitary Compliance (in simpler terms, ‘export quarantining and other technical barriers’).

“The Department of Commerce under my Ministry is ready to set up a ‘National Committee on SPS and TBT’ to overcome our export compliance issues specially Sanitary and Phytosanitary and Technical Barriers to Trade. I thank the WTO for their valuable and ongoing support to Sri Lanka” said Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen.

Minister Bathiudeen was addressing the press following the inauguration of Department of Commerce’ (DoC) pioneering Colombo info session with WTO experts for Lankan exporters, compliance officials and specialists on Sanitary and Phytosanitary and Technical Barriers to Trade (SPS & TBT). WTO Economic Affairs Officer Ms. Roshan Khan and WTO Trade and Environment Counsellor Erik Wijkstrom (who are at the three day session that concludes on 22 February) will brief the SL-DoC further on setting up the new mechanism and SPS / TBT way forward.

“I am pleased that this SPS info series launched by my Ministry with two WTO experts in September 2014 has today grown to include a bigger number of experts and SPS subject officials in Sri Lanka. On behalf of Sri Lanka’s trade sector I thank the WTO for their valuable and ongoing support to us” said Minister Bathiudeen and added: “As I stressed in 2014 more and more countries  around  the world continue  to  reduce  their  border  tariffs  especially through  an  increasing  number  Regional Trade  Agreements  (RTAs). Since 1995 over 400 additional arrangements have been notified to WTO.

In this background SPS and TBT measures have begun to create a significant impact on international trade impacting Sri Lanka negatively as it is a Small and Vulnerable Economy. These SPS and TBT measures appear to be highly complex and increasingly challenging for our exporters. This DoC session will provide important information on understanding the implementation of WTO agreements on SPS and TBT and using these instruments to the best advantage of our exports and imports of goods. The unity government of Sri Lanka led by HE President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has embarked on a new journey of accelerated economic development activities and looking for new FTAs. Currently FTAs are being negotiated with China and Singapore and present FTA with India too could expand for which talks are going on. Accordingly it is absolutely necessary for SPS and TBT measures to ensure the quality of Sri Lankan exports without restricting our trade and avoiding unnecessary disruptions. The EU- Sri Lanka Trade Related Assistance project coordinated by the Department of Commerce has identified quality infrastructure as a priority area to strengthen the National quality infrastructure. Accordingly, the Department of Commerce under my Ministry is ready to set up a ‘National Committee on SPS and TBT’ to overcome our export compliance issues specially Sanitary and Phytosanitary and Technical Barriers to Trade. I thank the WTO for their valuable and ongoing support to Sri Lanka.”

According DoC, the newly planned SPS & TBT Committee under the Department of Commerce is a high level cross functional mechanism with no less than 14 institutions (Ministries and specialised government institutions including the Agri-Ministry, Customs, Quarantine Department, the Import Export Department etc) getting involved. Once primary official set up processes are cleared, the Committee is scheduled to start its work by mid-2017 (or earlier).

WTO Trade and Environment Counsellor Erik Wijkstrom stressed that SPS & TBT compliance has become a great need in exports of developing countries such as Sri Lanka. “Across the world, average trade tariff is at 9%. Tariff reduction is not so much important anymore as those days. What is now important for trade is overcoming non-tariff barriers such as quality compliance, SPS and TBT. Compliance in these are especially beneficial for agricultural exports of countries such as Sri Lanka.”

Around 22% of Sri Lanka’s annual exports are agricultural, at US $ 2.5 Bn