Colombo, December 4 (The Hindu): Enhanced trade relations with China will not affect Maldives’s relations with its neighbors, said a visiting Maldivian Minister, the country’s Attorney General and the Ambassador in Sri Lanka here on Monday.
They were defending the recently concluded Free Trade Agreement with China which has drawn flak from the opposition parties and caused concern in the neighborhood.
Clarifying that the FTA with China was “purely commercial”, Ambasasdor Mohamed Hussain Shareef said Male was mindful of regional security.
“When it comes to security in the Indian Ocean Region, it is between the Maldives, India and Sri Lanka. No one else is welcome, be it friends from the East or West,” he said, amid concerns voices by Opposition forces over the island’s sovereignty.
While there is an existing agreement on South Asian Free Trade Area since 1993, it has not worked well for the Maldives, they observed, pointing to non-tariff barriers that came in the way of free trade in the region. On the other hand the pact with China, according to Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Mohamed Shainee, would enable trade without such barriers.
On the criticism that the deal was pushed in the Maldivian Parliament in less than an hour, Maldivian Ambassador Mohamed Hussain Shareef said: “Our MPs were already familiar with the contents of the agreement… the actual negotiations have been going for three years.”
The FTA, the dignitaries said, covers nearly 300 products, even as Opposition MPs charged that little information had been made available to them.
India, known to be watching China’s increasing presence in the region with concern, is yet to comment on the development.
(The featured image at the top shows, the Attorney General of the Maldives Mohamed Anil, the Maldivian Ambassador in Sri Lanka Mohamed Hussain Shareef and the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr.Mohamed Shainee)