GENEVA — Sri Lanka‘s apparel exports grew between 2010 and 2015 despite the external pressures from the global economic slowdown, with the majority of shipments destined for the preferential-access U.S. and European Union markets, a report by the World Trade Organization said.

In 2015, Sri Lanka’s apparel exports accounted for 45.7 percent share of the island nation’s exports of $10.4 billion, up from a 42 percent share five years earlier, the report said.

While lauding the export growth in the sector, WTO economists and trading partners, including the U.S., urged Sri Lanka during a two-day review of its trade regime to diversify its export destinations, product range and assortment.

“In traditional exports like apparel…there is ample room for growth by moving up the value chain,” said Christopher Wilson, deputy chief of the U.S. mission to the WTO.

Wilson said the U.S. and Sri Lanka, “have an expanding trade relationship totaling $3.25 billion in two-way trade in 2015.”

Last year, the U.S. was the biggest destination for Sri Lanka’s apparel exports of $2.1 billion, or 46.1 percent of total apparel shipments, while the EU was the second largest with $1.9 billion, or 41.5 percent share, according to WTO data.

“We would like to underscore our regard for Sri Lanka’s commitment to principles of openness to international trade and investor friendly climate,” Wilson said. “In particular, we laud Sri Lanka’s goal to adopt world-class trade and investment standards.”

Rishad Bathiudeen, Sri Lanka’s minister of industry and commerce, told WTO delegates it is necessary for the government, “to introduce policy directives to ensure exports led growth to the economy.”

“We are hopeful that Sri Lanka will also regain GSP Plus market access to the EU in the near future,” Bathiudeen said.

Paolo Garzotti, the EU’s deputy permanent representative to the WTO, said in July Sri Lanka submitted its new application to the EU for preferential treatment under GSP Plus and noted the EU “is currently conducting a technical assessment of the application and will inform Sri Lanka of its intentions by the end of November.”

Sri Lanka lost its GSP Plus benefits in 2010 following claims by the EU it had failed to agree to a set to demands to improve its poor human rights record. This also affected the export of certain apparel items to the EU such as T-shirts that had benefited under duty-free access and had to revert to standard GSP tariffs of 9 to 12 percent.

Senior Western and U.N. diplomats, who spoke on the condition of non-attribution, told WWD Thursday there has been an improvement in dealing with Sri Lanka on human rights matters since the establishment of the national unity government last year.

“Their attitude has changed a great deal, they are far more cooperative,” noted one diplomat familiar with the human rights brief.

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