COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is keen to join India's ambitious Sagarmala project that aims to harness its 7,500-km coastline and inland waterways and step up cooperation with four south India states to form a USD 500 billion sub-regional economy, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said.
Wickremesinghe said arrangements have been finalised to make Sri Lanka a strong economic and technological hub in the Indian Ocean region, extending necessary support for naval, air, communication and business operations.
Delivering the keynote speech at the Colombo International Maritime Conference (CIMC) yesterday, he said the Sagarmala project is an advantage for Sri Lanka.
"Joining the Sagarmala is an advantage for us, not a disadvantage," the Sri Lankan prime minister said, ruing that in the last few decades, misled by socialism, India and Sri Lanka closed trade links and became "land-based economies".
"Sri Lanka supports India's Sagarmala programme of building ports around the country, and will use paradiplomacy to build stronger links with India," Wickremesinghe said.
The Sagarmala is aimed at harnessing India's coastline and inland waterways to boost industrial development. It was originally floated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2003 but its perspective plan was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April this year.
The ambitious project with a projected outlay of Rs 4 lakh crore is expected to reduce cost for transporting goods. It holds significance as maritime logistics is seen as a vital component of the Indian economy, accounting for 90 per cent of EXIM trade by volume and 72 per cent of EXIM trade by value.
Wicremesinghe also recalled Sri Lanka's strong historical links with Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. He said his government was planning to engage in paradiplomacy with the Indian states to integrate with their economies.
Southern Indian states and Sri Lanka can form a USD 500 billion economy, he said but stressed that infrastructure developemnt alone woun't be enough.
"We must increase the training of personnel and employ modern shipping laws," he said. "Small steps, if enacted correctly, can lead to immense prosperity," he added.