Dumping ground, diabolical lie against Singapore-SL FTA - Harsha | Sunday Observer

Dumping ground, diabolical lie against Singapore-SL FTA - Harsha

2 September, 2018

Sri Lanka is protected by international treaties and regulations to control cross boundary movement of waste, and hence, there should not be any fear that the Singapore Government would use Sri Lanka as a waste disposal ground, a prominent Minister has assured.

Refuting the allegation brought against the Sri Lanka - Singapore Free Trade Agreement (SLSFTA) that waste including clinical waste and nuclear waste can be dumped into the country, State Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs Dr. Harsha de Silva says, Sri Lanka has adequate laws, such as quarantine laws and other non-tariff measures imposed to ensure this does not happen.

“There are regulations, such as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which we are signatory to. Customs duty is not the only way to prevent such issues. The law of the country prevails and we have protected our interests,” the State Minister said.

The Basel Convention was adopted on March 22, 1989 by the Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Basel, Switzerland in response to a public outcry following the discovery in the 1980s in Africa and other parts of the developing world, of deposits of toxic wastes imported from abroad.

The objective of the Convention is to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes. Its scope of application covers a wide range of wastes defined as, “hazardous wastes” based on their origin and/or composition and their characteristics, as well as two types of wastes defined as “other wastes” - household waste and incinerator ash.

According to the website of the Secretariat of the Basel Convention, controlling transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes is a cornerstone of the Convention. Parties to the Basel Convention which includes Sri Lanka and Singapore have the overall obligation to ensure that transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes are minimized and that any such movement is conducted in a manner which will protect human health and the environment. In all cases, the Convention requires that the standard of environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes or other wastes is met.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade issuing a statement recently emphasized that reduction or elimination of tariff does not automatically grant the entry of a product into the country. The Ministry’s clarification comes amid arguments that since waste products are included in the Tariff Liberalisation Programme (TLP), such items can be dumped into the country under the agreement.

“For all products imported into the country, domestic regulations and mechanisms, applicable import licensing requirement, and applicable standards regulations to protect plant, human and animal life will apply. This agreement does not take away Sri Lanka’s rights under the International Environmental Protection Treaties to which the country is a signatory. Therefore, the current environmental laws and regulations will apply to such products and this agreement has no exemption for those to enter the country,” the Ministry highlighted.

It noted that under Article 20 on ‘General Exceptions’ of GATT 1994, Sri Lanka has the right to take measures to protect human, animal and plant life and health. This provision has been incorporated into Article 17.7 of the agreement which ensures this right. Therefore, if there is a need, such measures can be introduced in the future.

Responding to the question of why such harmful products are included in the duty free list, the Ministry noted that in any international Free Trade Agreement, it is necessary to include all tariff lines, 7,438in the goods schedule that is either in the negative list, immediate liberalization list or phasing out list. Therefore, such products should be in any one of the lists.

“Sri Lanka chose the inclusion of these items in the TLP of 80% as it gave flexibility to the country to include more domestically sensitive items in the negative list, because such harmful items cannot be imported anyway without obliging the local laws,” the Ministry noted.

The Ministry pointed out, it is not the first time that these items are brought under the duty-free list, explaining that most of these items have been included in the duty free list in the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement and Pakistan-Sri Lanka Agreements. It added that there is no evidence to suggest that these products are coming into the country in any harmful manner.

“However, such items cannot enter the country because environmental laws and regulations, and import licensing requirements will apply to them. Therefore, it is not something that has been granted to Singapore only,” it stated.

Sri Lanka signed the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Singapore on January 23, 2018 after 18 months of negotiations between the trade negotiation teams of both countries. The agreement, which came into effect from May 1, 2018, encompasses a wide range of areas including goods and services, investment, e-commerce, Government procurement, intellectual property rights and telecommunication.

“There is no way we can develop the economy by just trading in the Sri Lankan market alone. While the world has started work in cooperation with other countries through global production networks, if we choose protectionism, we will only face isolation,” State Minister, Dr. De Silva cautioned.

Convening a media briefing at Siri Kotha, de Silva pointed out that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a proposed FTA between ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the six Asia-Pacific states with which ASEAN has existing FTAs, will be formed by the end of the year. The RCEP includes Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

“The only ones out of it will be Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. If we cannot even have an FTA with Singapore, how can we manage to have agreements with 15 other countries?” de Silva questioned.

Meanwhile, the expert committee appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena to re-examine the SLSFTA has called for public opinion on the agreement last week. Accordingly, the public and organizations can submit their views to the committee until September 27, 2018. Entities that hope to communicate their proposals verbally can book an appointment before this date, the committee chaired by retired Economics Professor W.D. Lakshman announced in an advertisement.