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Special WTO-Sri Lanka deliberations open in Colombo

October, 26, 2016

Sri Lanka announced that it is seeking Special and Differential Treatment (S&DT) for its agricultural and even service exports under WTO-and the WTO Lankan Trade Policy Review will take place in early November, said the apex global trade regulator on 26 October in Colombo.

“Being a Small and Vulnerable Economy and a Net Food Importing Developing country, Sri Lanka is faced with special circumstances that call for special needs. Sri Lanka is vigorously pursuing flexibility for Special Products and Special Safeguard Mechanisms” announced Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen on 26 October in Colombo addressing WTO’s Colombo session “Trade Led Development in the Multilateral Trading System” (conducted with the Department of Commerce), that opened at Colombo Hilton and involves in-depth studies of various trade aspects of WTO regime. Joining the session were such heavyweights as the Head of WTO Development Division Shishir Priyadarshi and United Nations ESCAP Trade Policy and Analysis Chief, Dr Mia Mikic.

“The recent important decisions made at WTO such export competition, LDC waiver on services, Agreement on Trade Facilitation etc have far reaching benefits for the developing countries. It is important to stress on Sri Lanka’s own areas of interest here as well. Sri Lanka is seeking Special and Differential Treatments under the WTO in all the areas of negotiations -including Non-Agricultural Market Access as well as Agriculture and Services” said Minister Bathiudeen and added: “Being a Small and Vulnerable Economy and a Net Food Importing Developing country, Sri Lanka is faced with special circumstances that call for special needs and flexibilities within the system. Sri Lanka is vigorously pursuing individually and through its “likeminded groups” such as G-33, towards flexibility for Special Products and Special Safeguard Mechanisms. Sri Lanka is also seeking flexibility through SVE to retain at least similar flexibility included in draft modality text Revision four in Agriculture, and revision three in Non-Agricultural Market Access in future negotiations. Sri Lanka therefore welcomes the Paragraph 26 of the Nairobi Ministerial declarations that reaffirm the commitment to continue to address in every area of WTO work in a substantive and meaningful manner with regard to the needs of Small and Vulnerable Economies.”

Of Sri Lanka’s total annual exports, agricultural exports claim around 22%. However, the share and value of agricultural exports has improved only marginally since 2011. The $ 2.45 Bn agri-exports in 2011 increased slightly by 2015, at $2.46 Bn.

“Sri Lanka’s delegation in Geneva is very active” said Head of WTO Development Division Shishir Priyadarshi, and added: “Sri Lanka also leads the Asia Pacific Group in WTO. WTO’s Sri Lanka Trade Policy Review is taking place in early November and I am pleased to say that there is much advanced preparation in this regard.”

“Trade led Development in the multilateral trading system is an overarching catalystic area of much debate and a focus of a body of scholastic study and critical literature” said Director General of Commerce Sonali Wijeratne and added: “It is hoped that there would be a critical discussion on re-evaluating the nexus between and trade and development which is often based on presumption –that is, the nature of underdevelopment in the global south was a problem of inadequate growth and inefficiency in the utilization and allocation s resources. Hence if trade increased there would be an automatic rise in development. However, empirical evidence does not always validate an automatic link between trade and development which is not axiomatic. It is important that this Colombo session re-evaluates old assumptions about trade, growth, employment and consumption and also examines development and social costs, problems of production capacities of economy, lack of attention to human resource development, results of the excessive role of trade reform, excesses and deficiencies in the trade liberalization agenda, largess of subsidies to agricultural businesses in the North and dumping of agricultural products by rich countries on poor countries etc”

Sri Lanka is one of the 26 countries classified by WTO as a Small and Vulnerable Economy (SVE)- “a developing country seeking flexibilities and enhanced special and differential treatment in negotiations.”

Photo - Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen (centre) at opening of WTO’s Colombo session “Trade Led Development in the Multilateral Trading System” joined by Head of WTO Development Division Shishir Priyadarshi (right) and Director General of Commerce Sonali Wijeratne (left) at Colombo Hilton on 26 October.