The 26th European Union (EU) – Sri Lanka Joint Commission took place on 22 February in Brussels. The meeting served as an occasion to exchange views on all areas of EU-Sri Lanka bilateral relations, in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. 

The EU updated on its key policies and legislation over the past year including on its economic security strategy, artificial intelligence policy, business and human rights agenda, environment protection, Global Gateway strategy and EU Indo-Pacific strategy. Sri Lanka briefed the EU on the steady progress made in the past year towards economic stabilization and recovery. The EU noted that Sri Lanka is taking steps to ensure that economic growth is sustainable, inclusive and equitable and is accompanied by social protection measures for vulnerable groups. The EU congratulated Sri Lanka on the rapid economic recovery and growth prospects.

The EU and Sri Lanka discussed current global challenges, such as combating climate change, financing green energy and technology transition, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and mitigating the sovereign debt crisis, the challenges of terrorism and transnational organised crime, cyber-security and disinformation. They highlighted the importance of international law in upholding international peace and security, with full respect of the UN Charter. 

The EU welcomed Sri Lanka’s active participation in the third EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum held in Brussels on 02 February 2024. The EU and Sri Lanka noted on-going good cooperation on maritime safety and security and explored areas of further cooperation during Sri Lanka’s current Chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). The EU appreciated the support to the EU Dialogue Partner status in IORA under Sri Lanka’s Chairmanship and welcomed Sri Lanka’s active participation in the Critical Maritime Routes in the Indian Ocean (CRIMARIO). The EU and Sri Lanka explored possible future security cooperation under enhancing the European Union’s Security Cooperation in and with Asia (ESIWA) project.

The EU updated Sri Lanka on the elections taking place this year in the EU. Sri Lanka confirmed that the Presidential election will be held as mandated by the Constitution. The EU expressed their willingness to deploy an EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) if invited by Sri Lanka.

The Joint Commission took stock of the EU-Sri Lanka Working Group on Trade and Economic Cooperation held virtually on 6 February 2024. Sri Lanka provided an update on its plans to phase out the remaining restrictions on imports factoring into the current economic situation and the setting up of a National Single Window for Trade. The EU provided an update on the legislative process to revise its Generalised System of Preferences (GSP): once the new legislation is put in place, beneficiary countries of the special incentive scheme (GSP+), including Sri Lanka, are expected to apply for the continued applicability of trade preferences. Noting the significance of bilateral trade relations, Sri Lanka appreciated the confirmation of the continuation of the EU GSP+ scheme for exports to the European market. At the same time, the EU stressed that it would continue monitoring to ensure further compliance under GSP+. Both sides reaffirmed their intention to pursue their engagement through the EU-Sri Lanka Investors’ Dialogue, to be scheduled in the first quarter of 2024. 

The Joint Commission was also briefed about the outcomes of the Working Group on Development Cooperation, held on 21 February 2024 in Brussels. The EU informed Sri Lanka about the progress of the Mid-Term Review for 2021-2024 of the Multi-annual Indicative Programme (MIP) for Sri Lanka for 2021-2027. Both the EU and Sri Lanka welcomed the smooth implementation of the agreed programmes in support of Sri Lanka’s development priority areas such as green recovery, modernisation of agriculture, rural development and peaceful and inclusive society.

Sri Lanka briefed the EU on its voluntary undertaking of the IMF Governance Diagnostic Assessment. The EUcommended Sri Lanka’s intention to use the governance diagnostic assessment for coordinating engagement and support from the government and the development partners. The EU was pleased to note Sri Lanka’s initiative to prepare an implementation plan for the diagnostic assessment and expressed interest to cooperate in this regard.

Sri Lanka apprised the EU on the recently adopted Anti-corruption Act strengthening the independent Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) and the appointment of Commissioners. The EU commended the adoption of the law and recalled the importance of providing the Anti-Corruption Commission with the required resources and independence, in line with the objectives of the new Act. 

The Joint Commission took note of the outcome of the Working Group on Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights held on 20th February 2024 in Brussels. Sri Lanka updated on the steps taken to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act with the Anti-Terrorism Bill and bring the draft law in line with international standards. The EU, while taking note of Sri Lanka’s efforts to address concerns, pointed out the need for further progress in that respect. The EU took note of the update given by Sri Lanka on the release of long-term detainees and urged Sri Lanka to refrain from using the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The EU and Sri Lanka agreed on the importance of empowering civil society while providing necessary space for their functioning in all its diversity. Sri Lanka welcomed the EU’s continued commitment to support reconciliation and the justice sector reforms in the country. The EU and Sri Lanka emphasized the importance of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and to peaceful assembly and association enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka and international conventions. The EU reiterated its call to de-criminalise same sex relations, and noted the Private Member’s Bill in this regard.

The EU and Sri Lanka discussed cooperation in international human rights fora including Sri Lanka’s follow up to the UPR Review under the 4th Cycle in February 2023 and 6th Periodic Review under the ICCPR in March 2023. Sri Lanka updated on its reconciliation efforts, i.e., domestic Truth and Reconciliation Commission, release of lands and resettlement of IDPs and the functioning of the domestic independent offices- OMP, OR, ONUR and OOSLA. The EU encouraged Sri Lanka to continue its engagement with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms.

Regarding labour rights, the EU and Sri Lanka addressed the follow-up to the recommendations of the November 2023 GSP+ monitoring report. Sri Lanka also informed about preparations of a new employment legislation. The EU stressed the importance of the right to collective bargaining and commended Sri Lanka’s efforts towards the elimination of child labour. The two parties agreed about the importance of advancing on labour rights, and acknowledged the progress achieved through the EU funded ‘Better Work’ programme and the ‘Businesses and Human Rights’ programme. 

The EU welcomed Sri Lanka’s ambition towards a greener economy, while aiming to achieve net negative carbon emissions by 2050, including the commitment to not increase energy capacity by coal power. The EU briefed on the implementation of the European Green Deal and expressed the desire to work closely with Sri Lanka, bilaterally and in multilateral fora, on climate financing options and climate change actions as well as environmental protection. In the follow-up to the Conference of the Parties (COP28) of UNFCCC, the importance of signing up to the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge was addressed. Sri Lanka highlighted the importance of donor countries living up to the financing and Loss and Damage agreements undertaken in multilateral climate fora. 

The EU briefed about the new regulation on deforestation-free products. The EU and Sri Lanka decided to engage in technical consultations in the near future. 

They agreed that terrorism continues to be a threat to security and the need for cooperation to combat terrorism. Sri Lanka acknowledged the continued proscription of the LTTE in the EU.

Sri Lanka updated the EU on the drafting of its new Fisheries Act and its efforts to prevent and eliminate IUU fishing. Cooperation in the framework of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) was also addressed. 

The EU and Sri Lanka acknowledged the challenges of Artificial Intelligence and agreed to continue exchanges on this topic.

The EU and Sri Lanka exchanged ways to deepen cooperation in the field of higher education, research and technical cooperation under the ERASMUS+ and Horizon Europe Framework. Opportunities for Sri Lankan participation in the Jean Monnet Programme were discussed. 

Discussions also included migration and readmission. The next meeting of the Readmission Committee will take place in the second quarter of 2024.

The EU and Sri Lanka welcomed the evolution of bilateral cooperation from development-based to a more solid partnership. EU and Sri Lanka agreed to explore possible investments in line with the EU Global Gateway strategy in the future, in partnerships on green energy transition, digital connectivity and sustainable development. 

It was agreed to hold the next session of the EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission in Colombo in 2025. The Joint Commission was co-chaired by Paola Pampaloni, Deputy Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific in the European External Action Service, and Aruni Wijewardane, Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka.