The International Trade Centre (ITC) in collaboration with the Department of Commerce (DoC) of Sri Lanka organized a webinar on ‘GSP+ for Enhanced Market Access’ recently. The webinar was primarily aimed at creating a platform for Sri Lankan exporters to better understand ways to increase the utilization of GSP+ concessions in their businesses; particularly in view of the stresses of Covid-19 on international trade. The event, which was attended by over 200 local and overseas participants including trade officers attached to the Sri Lankan missions in European Union (EU) countries, was conducted within the framework of the EU funded EU–Sri Lanka Trade-Related Assistance project.
Speaking at the webinar, Ananda Dharmapriya, Acting Director General of Commerce, Department of Commerce said, “There has been a positive correlation between the enhanced GSP concessions and the growth of Sri Lanka’s exports to the EU during the 1990s up to 2010. This correlation has continued after regaining GSP plus in 2017.” However, he noted that although over 7,000 product lines qualify for zero duty concessions, Sri Lanka’s exports under the scheme are concentrated only in a few sectors and that the utilisation of GSP+ tariff concession is lower in some sectors. He said the reason for the low utilization is because the cost of compliance with the rules of origin criteria outweighs the benefits of tariff concessions.
In his address, Mr. Thorsten Bargfrede, Deputy Head of Mission, Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives emphasised that Sri Lanka needs to focus on being competitive if they were to further benefit from the GSP+ scheme and keep its market share. “While trade preferences can help, competitiveness is what will drive Sri Lankan exports in the long run and Sri Lanka can stay competitive by producing high quality goods.” He emphasised that compliance with international labour and environmental standards that come with GSP+ can turn into a competitive advantage, and that it was important to look at the role of investments in the equation as investors bring both capital and know-how into the country.
Also speaking at the webinar, Mr. Prabhash Subasinghe, Chairman, Export Development Board called on local businesses to look at diversifying the Sri Lankan export basket and to use GSP+ as a tool for diversification. He highlighted areas such as the pharmaceutical industry, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Value-added agriculture, herbal and wellness products as some areas to consider diversifying in.
Mr. Subasinghe also noted that Sri Lankan exports to the EU are mostly concentrated in Western Europe. “While consolidating our position in Western Europe, we should consider moving into Central and Eastern Europe as well. Industries are growing in those regions and our businesses must capitalize on the opportunities they offer,” he said.
Mr. Sanjaya Mohottala, Director General, Board of Investment (BOI) of Sri Lanka said, “The five priority sectors driving FDIs in Sri Lanka are manufacturing, ICT, hospitality and tourism, agriculture and food processing, and construction and infrastructure.” He welcomed investments into Sri Lanka with the assurance that the BOI would provide all required facilities and services to set up companies as quickly as possible.
Other distinguished speakers of the panel included; Mr. Walter van Hattum, Coordinator GSP Trade Preferences, European Commission; Mr. Yohan Lawrence, Exco Member and Chairman of the Talent Subcommittee, Joint Apparel Association Forum Sri Lanka; and Mr. Shiham Marikar, Secretary General/CEO, National Chamber of Exporters of Sri Lanka; Dr. Dayaratna Silva, National Project Coordinator, EU-Sri Lanka Trade-Related Assistance and Colette van der Ven, Lawyer and ITC Consultant. The webinar was moderated by Mr. Rajesh Aggarwal, Chief, Trade Facilitation and Policy for Business, ITC.