The European Union (EU) demanded legalisation of same sex marriage and freedom of religion in return for extending duty-free status to Maldivian exports of canned tuna, Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed and Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee have claimed.
At a press conference this afternoon, Saeed said that the reason for the EU’s decision was the Maldives’ refusal to accept the condition for “allowing homosexual relations and the opportunity for people to follow any religion they want”.
“The Maldives is an Islamic state and will remain so. We will uphold Islam. We will not compromise on anything that conflicts with Islam,” he said.
Last year, the government’s application for a year’s extension under the ‘GSP Plus’ program was declined as it had not ratified all 27 required international conventions. The Maldives holds reservations concerning the freedom of religion component of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Dr Shainee said there was consensus among the public that same sex marriage and freedom of religion should not be allowed in the Maldives.
The ministers accused the opposition of attempting to deceive the public and obstructing the government’s development efforts.
Shainee said the opposition was twisting and distorting statements from government officials to divert attention from the government’s achievements during its first year in office, attempting to cast a “shadow” on the government’s achievements.
He accused former President Mohamed Nasheed of providing false information to foreign parties with the intention of “creating distrust towards the Maldivian people” and turning foreign nations against the Maldives.
The Maldivian people would suffer the consequences of the opposition’s alleged attempts to worsen relations with India and Europe, he said.
India has suggested remarks made in the People’s Majlis by Dunya last week regarding Sino-Indian talks on the Maritime Silk Road project were misleading, prompting government politicians to suggest the MDP was behind the confusion.
After publishing what is claimed to be evidence of the supposed discussions having taken place yesterday, Indian High Commissioner Rajeev Shahare tweeted a link to the official joint statement released at the conclusion of September’s talks between President Xi Jinpeng and Narendra Modi.
The 28-point statement contained no mention of the silk road project, while the Chinese press release referred to by the Maldives government mentioned that the two governments “should” work within the silk road framework.
In his Republic Day address yesterday, President Abdulla Yameen accused the EU of imposing trade restrictions on the Maldives for refusing to change or abandon Islamic principles.
Until January 2014, fish exports to the EU – the single largest export partner by value – were duty-free under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme, a non-reciprocal trade agreement extended to developing countries.
Thailand, Ecuador, and China also lost GSP benefits this year.
The Maldives was forced to apply for GSP Plus status as a result of its graduation from least developed country status – a change President Yameen has noted as bringing “enormous challenges and hardships”.
President Yameen said yesterday trade and economic cooperation with China does not involve the same challenges to remaining an Islamic state posed by “Western colonial powers.”
“Participating in business with China does not involve any such compulsion for us,” Yameen said.
Former Fisheries Minister Shafeeu told Minivan News in November 2013 that the Maldives would lose its competitive advantage over the larger fishing fleets of nearby Sri Lanka and Thailand with a 14-20 tariff on fish imports, and reduce profits to “a marginal value”.
President Yameen said there was “no way forward” for the country on the issue.
“The government’s thinking is changing towards the East,” he said. Under the Maldivian Constitution, all citizens are required to be Sunni Muslim and the practice of other religions as well as places of worship are prohibited.
Shainee noted that the EU was still the Maldives biggest partner for fish exports and stressed that closer ties with China does not entail worsening relations with India or other friendly nations.
The government has been looking for new markets for fish exports – such as China, the Middle East, and America – and have introduced longline fishing, he added.
Of the companies responding to request for proposals from the government for infrastructure projects, Saeed said today that a large percentage were from China.
An agreement has also been signed between China and Maldives to form a joint commission on trade and economic cooperation, he added, which would facilitate economic growth.
Saeed also noted that China represents 40 percent of tourist arrivals to the Maldives.
The government decided to participate in the Chinese 21st Century Maritime Silk Route initiative because China is currently the strongest and fastest growing economy in the world, President Yameen said yesterday.
As a result, Yameen continued, the government believes that the “multi-million dollar infrastructure investment” needed for economic development would “arrive through this door.”