Ambassador Butenis bids farewell with a surprise $ 113K gift for Peace Collection
‘Resolution of GSP a good example of the two governments successfully working together’ says Ambassador Butenis
The US commended Sri Lanka on 12 July for the island nation’s close cooperation to resolve the GSP review issue successfully. The U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives Patricia A. Butenis revealed on July 12: “We thank you for your cooperation too in bringing this issue to a successful conclusion. The GSP issue is a good example of how we, the two governments, can work together. The review was positive because the Ministry and other stakeholder Ministries of the government of Sri Lanka were willing to work with the US. Now we see the results. Therefore I too want to thank you, and more importantly I see this as a success story.”
Ambassador Patricia A. Butenis was responding to Rishad Bathiudeen, Minister of Industry and Commerce of Sri Lanka at the Ministry of Industry & Commerce for his words of praise to Ambassador Butenis for US’ decision to continue the GSP benefits to Sri Lanka. Ambassador Butenis met Minister Bathiudeen in Colombo during her farewell courtesy call on Minister Bathiudeen on the morning of 12 July.
Previously, on 29 June, the US Trade Representative Mr Ron Kirk announced that the US has decided to not to change GSP benefits to Sri Lanka. “The closure of the GSP country practice review of Sri Lanka was based on the Sri Lankan government’s noteworthy efforts to address worker rights issues over the past few years. This welcome outcome to the review demonstrates that GSP remains an effective tool for engaging GSP beneficiary countries on worker rights” he said. According to the Department of Commerce of Sri Lanka, apparel products remain the largest single Sri Lankan export item to the US. Of Sri Lanka’s $ 4039 Mn apparel exports to the world in 2011, 39.36% ($ 1590 Mn) was directly absorbed by the US market, rising from $ 1297.5 Mn in 2009. Another Sri Lankan product-line in demand in the US market is the ‘rubber based product’ category. When it comes to SL-US trade, the balance of trade has always been in favour of Sri Lanka during the past several years. In 2011, US became the second largest global trade partner of Sri Lanka (followed by India). Sri Lanka-US bilateral trade value stood at $ 2478.27 Mn in 2011 which was only $ 1,962.20 Mn in 2003. According to the US Embassy in Colombo, Under the GSP program, up to 5,000 types of products from 128 beneficiary developing countries are eligible for duty-free importation into the United States. In 2011, the total value of imports that entered the United States duty-free under GSP was $18.5 billion. U.S. imports from Sri Lanka under GSP totaled $135 Mn in 2011 and include tires, activated carbon, rubber gloves, plastic products, and kitchenware.
Apprising Ambassador Butenis, Minister Bathiudeen continued: “We warmly welcome the United States’ announcement on 29 June that the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) country practice review on worker rights in Sri Lanka has closed without any change to Sri Lanka’s GSP trade benefits. On behalf of the government of Sri Lanka I also thank Your Excellency’s personal interest in assisting us on not only in trade such as US GSP, successful TIFA talks and support for Paradise Peace Collection handloom initiative, but also on many other aspects including education, resettlement, tsunami recovery and demining.”
During the past 50 years, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided assistance (not loans) to Sri Lanka to the value of $ 2Bn in areas, among others, education, tsunami reconstruction, demining and public private partnership ventures. Around 4000 Sri Lankan students are currently pursuing their studies in the US.
During the meeting Ambassador Butenis also announced that the US Government is committed to provide $113,444 for the Sri Lanka Paradise Peace Collection project to support livelihoods for some identified war widows through handloom production and sustained through institutional and technical support from the Textile Unit, Export Development Board and the Department of Commerce operating under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. Ambassador Butenis had taken a special interest in this project and it was as a result of her committed initiative that in January 2010 initial discussions with Minister Bathiudeen led to the arrival of an international export handloom specialist to Sri Lanka. She was previously involved in linking handloom exports produced by rural women of Rwanda, called the ‘Rwandan Peace Collection’. She conducted two field visits in Sri Lanka thereby further shaping the ‘Paradise Peace Collection’ initiative.
“Thanks to Your Excellency’s strong commitment to our Peace Collection and the national handloom sector efforts of my Ministry, we have now successfully initiated the revival of our handloom tradition across the country” apprised Minister Bathiudeen.