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Sri Lanka: Constitutional Amendment to Qualify for EU Trade Preferences Rejected

(Dec. 8, 2008) On December 3, 2008, the Government of Sri Lanka rejected a proposal put forth by an opposition political party to amend the country's constitution that would have made international agreements enforceable immediately upon conclusion. The United National Party (UNP) had advocated the change in order to retain Generalized System of Preferences positive status (known as GSP+ status) for trade with the European Union (EU). Ranil Wickremasinghe, a UNP leader, stated that the amendments should be adopted because some Sri Lankan legislation conflicts with international principles and further stated that the apparel sector of the economy in particular could suffer from loss of preferential status. In response, Prime Minister Rathnasiri Wickramanayaka stated that the government did not favor amending the constitution to suit an outside, international entity like the EU. “If the constitution would [be] amend[ed] to retain GSP+, the country would lose its sovereignty and become subservient to international law,” he argued. (Sri Lankan Government Rejects the Opposition Proposal to Amend the Constitution on GSP+, LANKA PAGE, Dec. 3, 2008, available at; Government Rejects Constitutional Amendments Proposed by UNP, THE COLOMBO TIMES, Dec. 3, 2008, available at

The EU GSP program is a system of preferential trading arrangements for developing countries. To qualify for the GSP+ status and its beneficial trade access policies, countries must meet three standards.

  1. Countries must have ratified, by October 2005, 23 key international conventions relating to human rights, including the conventions on the elimination of discrimination against women, on the prohibition of torture, on the right to strike, and against child labor. Other conventions must be ratified by the end of 2008, including the Kyoto Protocol, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and the U.N. Convention Against Corruption.
  2. Countries must have provided full information on their ratifications of the conventions concerned and implementing measures and must have made a formal request to qualify for the status before October 31, 2005.
  3. Countries must show that their economies are “dependent and vulnerable.” This standard is defined as meaning that the five largest sections among the nation's exports to the European Community that would be covered by the GSP must constitute over 75 percent of all GSP-covered exports. In addition, all the GSP-covered exports from the country must be less than one percent of all EU imports. (Generalised [sic] System of Preferences: EU “GSP+” Granted to an Additional 15 Developing Countries, TRADE ISSUES, Dec. 21, 2005, available at

The GSP+ system will remain in place in Sri Lanka until the EU completes a review of human rights conditions in the country. The Prime Minister has stated that Sri Lanka has met the GSP+ conditions. In his view, “[w]e are required to satisfy the European Commission that in Sri Lanka there is effective implementation of obligations under three international conventions, that on civil and political rights, on the issue of torture and on the rights of children, and this condition has been met.” (LANKA PAGE, supra.)