The Sri Lankan Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade has said that it will reserve one seat for a common candidate of Sri Lanka’s chambers of commerce and professional bodies in its teams negotiating trade and investment agreements with other countries.
The Ministry described this as a demonstration of the government’s willingness to be transparent while it negotiates trade and investment agreements with other countries.
This step follows an assurance given to the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) by President Maithripala Sirisena that government will formulate a National Policy on Trade Agreements before entering into talks with India on the highly controversial Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA).
The GMOA has been in the forefront of the agitation against ETCA. It fears an influx of Indian doctors and other medical personnel under a clause allowing movement of service personnel. Assurances from the Sri Lankan government as well as India, that any clause relating to services will be highly restrictive, have not cut ice. Sri Lankan traders and professionals hark back to the unpopular India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISLFTA) to argue that ETCA will also favor India. Various Non-Tariff Barriers imposed by India have hampered Sri Lankan exports despite customs duty concessions.
The International Trade Ministry has said that it is engaged in formulating a National Policy on Trade Agreements in consultation with chambers of commerce and professional bodies, and that the policy will be announced by the end of August.
And as part of the National Policy, laws which give foreigners an unfair advantage to the detriment of the country, will be reviewed and new ones made.
The Trade Ministry’s statement makes it clear that government is not backing out of ETCA. It has declared that ETCA will be an improvement on and an expansion of the India Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISLFTA) and that ETCA will eventually replace ISLFTA.
Negotiations on ETCA will start by the third week of July, and an agreement will be signed by the end of the year, the Ministry said. However, right through the negotiations, the Sri Lankan stakeholders will be consulted. A Joint Working Group composed of officials and stakeholders from the chambers of commerce and organizations of professionals will be set up before the end of July to keep track of ETCA talks and offer inputs.
While negotiating with India on ETCA, Sri Lanka will also be having talks with China on a Free Trade Agreement. A Chinese delegation will be in Colombo in early August to discuss the Sino-Sri Lankan FTA which is expected to be finalized by early 2017, the ministry said.