COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is to send this week its Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade, Malik Samarawickrama, to New Delhi to speed up negotiations on the proposed Indo-Lanka Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA).
This announcement was made by Prime Minister Ranil Wickemesinghe as part of his package of measures to meet the crisis created by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (EU). The package includes Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with China and other Asian countries and also a stand alone agreement with UK.
Lanka has been having an FTA with India since 2000 but has had difficulty in entering into one with China and Pakistan despite years of effort.
Justifying his “look East” policy, the Prime Minister said in Galle that with the British leaving the EU, the EU might be considerably weakened. This in turn would adversely affect Lanka because the EU presently accounts for 40 per cent of Lanka’s exports. It is therefore imperative that Lanka enters into Free Trade Agreements or strengthens existing FTAs and other economic pacts with Asian countries like India and China, he said.
It was in this context that he said that Minister Samarawickrama would be heading for Delhi for talks on ETCA next week.
Mooted at the highest political levels in New Delhi and Colombo in 2014, ETCA is nevertheless strongly opposed by Lankan professionals and entrepreneurs because they fear swamping by Indian goods and service personnel.
That the agreement intends to have safeguards and at any rate will not allow movement of personnel, are overlooked.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is however very keen on ETCA. At his instance, the government has been publishing articles in newspapers presenting the need to end protectionism and come out of cocoons to face the world bravely for a bright national future.
Since both UK and EU will be in trouble economically and politically in the coming months, the traditionally pro-Western Wickremesinghe is now looking East. He has formed a committee comprising top economists and economic administrators like P.Paskaralingam, Dr.Indrajit Coomaraswamy, Dr.Saman Kalegama and Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendan, to quickly draw up a plan to tie the Lankan economy to Asia and reduce its historical dependence on Western markets.