The Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade of Sri Lanka, Malik Samarawickrama, said that they are in a dialogue process with the Indian government to sign an Economic and Technology Co-operation Agreement (ETCA), and negotiations will begin on 20-21 July, 2016. The Minister was speaking at an Indian interactive session organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in New Delhi today.
The Minister noted that the India-Sri Lanka bilateral relationship has grown significantly since Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena took over in 2015. The ECTA is likely to help Sri Lanka increase access to India, the world’s fastest growing large economy. He further restated that India is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner, and the fifth-largest source of Foreign Direct Investment.
The Minister added that Sri Lanka is also negotiating similar trade agreements with China, its second-largest trade partner. This would provide an opportunity for Indian investors to set up base in Sri Lanka and export to China with preferential access to that country’s market. Sri Lanka is also looking forward to signing bilateral trade agreements with Singapore, Pakistan, South Korea and Japan.
The Minister expressed that infrastructure will continue to be a major focus of the Sri Lankan government. The Srilankan government is also working on creating a single electronic window for customs clearance. The Minister added that the government has reviewed 142 nascent projects valued at over US$40 billion that can be implemented over the next 15 years in Sri Lanka. These include projects such as highways, housing, ports, roadways, transport, real estate, pharmaceuticals, information technology (IT) and IT-enabled services, logistics and manufacturing in industrial zones. The Minister emphasized that the focus will be on the private sector, and only a few projects would take the form of a public-private-partnership (PPP). He further added that Sri Lanka would be ready to assist in the provision of land for setting up major investment projects.
The Minister also opined that India can play a role through infrastructure development and also by creating jobs in the services sector. Potential Indian investors would benefit from Sri Lanka’s resilient economy, educated workforce, and preferential access to larger markets and rapid growth in sectors like infrastructure.
Ms. Renu Pall, Joint Secretary for the Indian Ocean Region at India’s Ministry of External Affairs, mentioned that there is a need to increase the momentum of interaction between the two countries. She suggested that India and Sri Lanka could send delegations every month to each other’s countries, focusing on specific sectors.
Mr. Vinayak Chatterjee, Chairman, CII National Committee on Infrastructure and Chairman, Feedback Infra Pvt Ltd., said: “Sri Lanka is a priority destination for Indian companies, many of which are already present in the country.”
According to the Minister, Sri Lanka would welcome Indian investors looking at joint ventures with MSMEs and the country would benefit greatly from the cross-learning regarding business operation and technology. Investment in MSMEs could also help diminish a large skills deficit, particularly through education and vocational training. Sri Lanka is enthusiastic in cooperating with educational institutes to set up overseas centers in the country and collaborate through research and academic exchanges too.