Fallout From Tsunami: Sri Lanka to Ask U.S. For Breaks on Tariffs

Looking to rebuild its economy, Sri Lanka, where 30,000 people were killed by the Dec. 26 tsunami, plans to petition the U.S. for trade breaks.

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Sri Lanka, a country the size of West Virginia, was one of 11 South Asian nations hit by the waves that killed more than 150,000 people. Although Indonesia suffered more fatalities — at last count more than 100,000 had died there — they largely came on the island of Sumatra, not Java, where that nation’s apparel industry is concentrated.

Senadhira said Sri Lanka wants Washington and Brussels to lift duties on apparel made in Sri Lanka of foreign fabric. That’s a critical piece of the equation, since Sri Lanka’s textile industry is minimal and the nation’s garment makers rely on fabrics imported from off the island.

The U.S. already offers these terms to the poorest African nations, while the EU provides it to poor countries through its “everything but arms” trade regime.

Asked about Sri Lanka’s plans, a U.S. trade official said, “We have received no such request. All reconstruction and humanitarian assistance efforts are being handled by the State Department.”

The U.S. has earmarked $350 million for tsunami relief and deployed thousands of military personnel and assets, including helicopters, to assist in the massive global humanitarian response.

According to preliminary estimates, the tsunami destroyed more than 100,000 homes on the island, displaced nearly one million people and caused billions of dollars of damage in core infrastructure.

“The population of the entire country is struggling to come to terms with the magnitude of the loss and the trauma that it has caused,” United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said last week during his appeal for $977 million to help provide relief until the end of June to the tsunami-hit nations.

For the year ended in October, Sri Lankan makers shipped $1.51 billion worth of apparel and fabric to the U.S., making it the 21st-ranked supplier. The island nation was also among the loudest voices in protesting last year that it was not ready for the lifting of the quota system.

Mirchandani said the apparel industry would become even more important to Sri Lanka’s economy given the depressive effect the disaster is expected to have on tourism and fishing.

He said the apparel sector was one of the few industrial sectors not destroyed by the tsunami.

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