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EU Examines Trade Breaks for Tsunami-Hit Region

Asian countries hit hard by December's tsunami might get a helping hand from the European Union. Trade officials are talking of waiving typical trade duties on products from the devastated region.

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The trade infrastructure in Indonesia needs time to recover

The European Union on Friday is set to examine trade measures to relieve the financial burden on Asian countries hit by the devastating tsunami, officials said.

Senior bureaucrats from EU trade ministries will discuss bringing forward a new "Generalized System of Preferences" (GSP) for the countries concerned in advance of the scheme's planned introduction in July.

One EU diplomat said ahead of Friday's meeting: "We aren't at the stage yet of taking a decision."

But a spokeswoman for Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said the EU executive hoped for a "political signal that the member states are ready to work on this acceleration" of the new GSP.


Sri Lanka would benefit greatly

The EU system grants products imported from GSP beneficiary countries either duty-free access or a tariff reduction.

Textilhandel Markt in Schanghai

The textile industry is a major source of income in South Asia

Of the countries hit by the December 26 earthquake and tidal wave, Sri Lanka would benefit the most from the reformed GSP by seeing EU customs duties on its textiles and clothing exports reduced to zero.

Thailand would benefit from a reduction from 12 percent to 4.2 percent on its lucrative shrimp exports to Europe. India and Indonesia would gain from better terms on their textile exports.

The EU may also, on a "case by case basis", suspend anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties against companies in the affected countries, a diplomat said.

The death toll across the Indian Ocean from the disaster is now close to 222,000, with Indonesia suffering by far the most fatalities.

EU finance ministers on Tuesday held a preliminary discussion on the economic fallout of the tsunami, inviting the EU's European Investment Bank to draw up proposals for long-term reconstruction aid.

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