EU set to slap trade sanctions on Sri Lanka
Exports face a ban over allegations of human rights abuses
London: Exports of Sri Lankan clothes and sportswear to Europe face being banned over allegations of human rights abuses, a diplomat from the country confirmed on Tuesday.
Although the European Union has asked the Sri Lankan government to respond to the allegations of human rights abuses during the civil war this year, a London-based Sri Lankan diplomat said, "Their minds seem to be made up".
"We are exploring alternatives," the diplomat told IANS, and replied in the affirmative when asked if he meant plans to marketing in India and elsewhere in Asia.
"This will hit the people, not the government," he added.
The European Union decided to withdraw trade benefits under the General System of Preference Plus after human rights consultants hired by it reported police torture, abduction of journalists and uninvestigated disappearances during the civil war against Tamil separatists ending in May.
They alleged "complete or virtually complete impunity in Sri Lanka", and criticised the detention of nearly 300,000 ethnic Tamils in internment camps following the defeat of rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, The Times newspaper reported Tuesday.
Sri Lanka had denied entry to an official EU human rights team.
Cheap and good quality Sri Lankan-made garments are widely available in Europe, including British retail stores such as Next, Tesco and Marks & Spencer, under a duty free regime introduced to aid Sri Lanka's economic recovery after the 2004 tsunami.
The Times said the EU move threatens to destroy the livelihoods of 250,000 workers. In addition, the garment industry indirectly supports up to a million Sri Lankans.
It quoted an EU diplomat as saying, "Given how critical the [human rights] report is, and how Sri Lanka is likely to respond, it will now be very hard to extend it."
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has formed a committee of four cabinet ministers to formulate Sri Lanka's response to the EU charges.