Colombo, October 19 (NIA): Indian Foreign Secretary S.Jaishankar is to visit Sri Lanka with a business delegation this weekend, to promote Indian business and investment, both in accordance with the Narendra Modi government’s policy of using diplomacy to promote India’s trade and investment abroad and to counter China’s expanding economic footprint.
Jaishankar and his team, arriving here on Saturday, will interact with top Sri Lankan officials and businessmen over three days on possibilities of collaboration and cooperation in a wide range of fields.
India is aware that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government in Sri Lanka has shed its initial reservations about Chinese investments and interests in Sri Lanka, and is going all out to woo Chinese investments in several big ticket infrastructure and industrial projects.
To counter China, India has offered to construct a 500 MW Liquefied Natural Gas- fuelled power plant at Kerawelapitiya north of Colombo, in place of the cancelled coal fired power plant of the same capacity at Sampur in Eastern Lanka.
At Sampur, India proposes to set up solar energy plants and is awaiting the Sri Lankan government’ nod. India has emerged as the leader for the Global Solar Energy Alliance floated by Prime Minister Modi along with the French President in 2015.
India has an ambitious target to install 175GW of renewable energy by 2020 and make renewable energy sources account for 40 percent of the power produced by 2030. When Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat, he had put up solar plants to generate 500 MW.
India will be building highways in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka, linking Jaffna with Mannar; Mannar with Trincomalee via Vavunia; and Vavuniya with Colombo via Kurunegala.
China, on the other hand, will be setting up an Industrial Zone spread over 15,000 acres in Humbantota and running the now idle Humbantota Port and Mattla Airport as commercial ventures on the basis of Public-Private Sector Partnership. China is already building the US$ 1.4 billion Colombo Port City. Sri Lanka is keen on signing a Free Trade Agreement with China. It already has an FTA with India.
Having a dim view of the Sri Lankan public sector and governmental institutions, China is looking for international private sector partners, including Indian companies, for its projects in Sri Lanka.
Jaishankar Will Not Discuss ETCA
Indian officials made it clear that Foreign Secretary Jaishankar will not be discussing the proposed Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with Sri Lanka. ETCA, a controversial subject in Sri Lanka, is being negotiated by the Commerce Ministries of India and Sri Lanka and only two meetings have taken place so far.
While the Sri Lankan government wants ETCA to be signed by December 2016, the Indians would like to proceed slower and are looking at May 2017 as the more realistic deadline for the conclusion of talks.