By Uditha Jayasinghe
The US is satisfied with the “significant” progress of Sri Lanka’s worker rights and has expressed hope that a key concessional tax scheme will be concluded soon, a top official said yesterday.
Assistant US Trade Representative for South and Central Asia Michael Delaney on concluding a visit to Sri Lanka told the media that discussions between the Government and other stakeholders have been fruitful and the negotiations have reached an “advanced stage”.
However, he declined to give a timeline despite Sri Lanka’s Commerce and Industry Ministry releasing a statement saying that the review of the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) would be completed by the end of this month. He noted that one of the most important steps had been the Board of Investment (BOI) initiative to establish trade union facilitation centres in each of the three largest investment zones, which was a request made in the petition filed with the US.
“The US values relations with Sri Lanka and hopes to see it grow. There are no specific requirements but adherence to International Labour Organization standards is positive. We have a lot to offer Sri Lanka and the golden age of our relations is now,” he said.
The United States was the largest single buyer of Sri Lankan goods in 2011, taking nearly 22 per cent of total exports worth US$ 2.15 billion. Delaney noted that 2012 first quarter figures but the number closer to US$ 2.5 billion and stressed that “this could easily triple over the next five years”.
The GSP has been under review since 2010 and the Sri Lankan Government has requested its speedy conclusion during a recent visit of External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris.
Moving on to larger trade discussions Delany admitted that more awareness about Sri Lanka’s investment opportunity could be raised among US companies. He called on the Government to improve the country’s overall investment climate but did not elaborate on specifics.
“If you take Transparency International rankings, Sri Lanka has made a slight improvement but seems to have stuck at mid-level. It would certainly be useful for us if that were to show even modest improvement.”