The European Union (EU) and the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka held their 24th meeting of the Joint Commission on 8 February 2022 in Brussels. The meeting, which was held in a friendly and open atmosphere, reviewed bilateral relations and entailed an exchange of views and updates on a wide range of topics of bilateral interest – ranging from governance, reconciliation and human rights, to trade, development cooperation, climate change and environment, sectoral cooperation, security and counter-terrorism, and cooperation in multilateral fora.
With respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU congratulated Sri Lanka on the country’s effective vaccine strategy. Highlighting the need to address vulnerabilities and inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, the EU emphasised its commitment to making the COVID-19 vaccine accessible to low- and middle-income countries in a fair and equitable manner. Sri Lanka appreciated the EU’s continued contribution to global vaccine equity.
The meeting provided an opportunity for updates on developments, relevant action and legislative initiatives in the EU and Sri Lanka. The discussion focused on democracy, governance, rule of law, human rights, including the rights of minorities, women, children and labour rights, and freedom of expression and association.
Sri Lanka apprised on progress in reconciliation and in the independent institutions, notably the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), the Office for Reparations (OR), the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL). The EU strongly encouraged Sri Lanka to continue cooperation and engagement with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms. In this context, the EU underlined the importance of independence and effective functioning of the Independent Institutions. The EU and Sri Lanka concurred on the importance of empowering civil society and giving it the necessary space to function in all its diversity. The EU reiterated its continued commitment to support Sri Lanka in justice reform and reconciliation.
Sri Lanka reiterated its objective to achieve measurable, tangible and verifiable results on the ground in meeting its commitments. In this context, the EU welcomed the submission by the Government of Sri Lanka of amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). However, the EU noted that important elements had not been included in the Amendment Bill gazetted. Sri Lanka took note of the views expressed by the EU to take further steps to make the PTA fully compliant with international norms. In the interim, while taking note of the administrative steps taken in the form of directives issued by the Inspector General of Police, the EU urged Sri Lanka to continue reducing the use of the PTA, and to undertake further practical and administrative steps to release on bail those detained under the PTA without charges.
The Joint Commission took stock of the conclusions of the Working Group on Trade and Economic Cooperation held virtually on 26 January 2022. The EU and Sri Lanka noted the significance of bilateral trade relations. In this regard, the EU strongly urged Sri Lanka to lift forthwith import restrictions preventing many European products from entering its market. Sri Lanka clarified that it has imposed temporary import restrictions on non-essential items, strictly as an interim measure, due to a foreign exchange shortfall resulting from the impact of the global pandemic. Sri Lanka noted that these measures are subject to continuous and progressive review. Sri Lanka appreciated the valued contribution of the GSP+ regime to the country’s sustainable development. The EU acknowledged the constructive engagement by Sri Lankan stake-holders during the GSP+ monitoring mission in September 2021. The two sides reviewed Sri Lanka’s compliance with 27 International Conventions related to human rights, labour rights, protection of the environment and good governance covered by the GSP+ scheme. Sri Lanka reiterated its commitment to effective implementation of the 27 conventions, and noted its adherence to the principle of non-discrimination, and the removal of any further impediments in the exercise of labour rights and fundamental freedoms. The EU invited Sri Lanka to provide further updates on progress.
The Joint Commission also discussed the conclusions of the Working Group on Development Cooperation, which took place on 2 February 2022. The Working Group reviewed all aspects of EU – Sri Lanka development cooperation, and discussed priorities of the EU Multi-Annual Indicative Programme (MIP) for 2021-2027. They also discussed the interventions adopted in 2021, including the COVID-19 response package. The EU noted that the MIP, which focuses on Green Recovery and Inclusive and Peaceful Society, supports Sri Lanka’s development priorities, and is aligned with the external dimensions of the European Green Deal, and the EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Appreciating the EU’s development cooperation, Sri Lanka reiterated the need for it to complement Sri Lanka’s national and developmental priorities. The EU and Sri Lanka expressed their commitment to work together on joint priorities under the MIP.
The EU and Sri Lanka agreed on the importance of continued cooperation in deterring and eliminating IUU fishing practices, and honouring commitments of the partnership.
Issues related to migration and readmission were also discussed.
The EU and Sri Lanka exchanged on ways to deepen cooperation in higher education and research and technical cooperation under the Erasmus+ programme, the Marie-Sklodowska-Curie programme, and the Horizon Europe framework programme.
The EU welcomed Sri Lanka’s update on its Nationally Determined Contributions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the country’s commitment to ambitious targets. The EU looked forward to working closely with Sri Lanka, bilaterally and in multilateral fora, on climate action and environment protection. Both sides exchanged views on priorities ahead of the 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27).
The EU and Sri Lanka reviewed ongoing cooperation in the area of security and counter-terrorism. Sri Lanka appreciated the EU’s continued listing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as a terrorist organisation. Both sides stressed the importance of adherence to international norms and standards in the fight against terrorism. They reiterated willingness to further enhance cooperation in Maritime Domain Awareness.
The EU and Sri Lanka highlighted their commitment to continue joint efforts in the promotion of a rules based international order and effective multilateralism. They also discussed regional developments, and cooperation in the Indian Ocean. The EU presented Global Gateway, the new EU plan for major investments in infrastructure development around the world, which was launched on 1 December 2021. The initiative was welcomed by Sri Lanka.
The EU and Sri Lanka agreed to convene the next Joint Commission meeting in Colombo in 2023. They also discussed the timeframe of the next Working Group meetings under the Joint Commission.
The meeting was co-chaired by Ms Paola Pampaloni, Deputy Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific at the European External Action Service, and Admiral (Prof.) JayanathColombage, Secretary, Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka.
The Joint Commission, which oversees the 1995 EU-Sri Lanka Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development, deals with a broad range of bilateral and multilateral issues of mutual interest. Its tasks are to ensure the proper functioning and implementation of the Agreement, set priorities, and make recommendations.
All three Working Groups established under the terms of the Joint Commission reported back from their respective meetings: the Working Group on Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights in September 2021; the Working Group on Trade and Economic Cooperation Issues in January 2022; and the Working Group on Development Cooperation in February 2022.