Colombo, January 28 (newsin.asia): The outgoing Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, on Monday assured Sri Lankans that India has no need whatsoever to devour the Sri Lankan market for goods and services.
In his farewell address to an audience comprising top of the line Lankan political and business elite, Sandhu said that the Indian market is one of the biggest in the world, and many countries want to enter it and take advantage of the opportunities it offers. India’s industries and service providers, though growing, are themselves unable to meet the domestic market’s gargantuan appetite. Therefore, with so much to do at home, it is inconceivable that Indian business entities would want to target the Sri Lankan market, Sandhu reasoned.
He went on to say that it would be good for Sri Lankans to have a go at the vast Indian market which is likely to grow exponentially as it tries to become a US$ 5 trillion economy soon. “Sri Lanka should be part of India’s growth story,” the High Commissioner added.
Sandhu is leaving for the US to be India’s Ambassador in Washington, and the farewell at India House had among the distinguished guests, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mrs.Wickremesinghe and former Leader of the Opposition R.Sampanthan.
India Can Take South Asia to Prosperity
In a well-timed and significant piece in DailyFt on Tuesday, Rohan Maskarola, a Sri Lankan economist currently working as the CEO of the Shippers’ Academy Colombo and the Chairman of the Logistics Advisory Committee of the Export Development Board, said that India can take rest of the countries surrounding it to “greater economic prosperity within the next few decades.”
He pointed out that India took only five years to move from a US$ 2 trillion to US$ 3 trillion economy. In 2014, India was the 11th largest economy in the world. Five years down the line, India is either the fifth or sixth-largest economy of the world.
Maskarola said: “I have observed the change of mind set of many Indians to be self-conscious of wanting to be a great economic power of the world. Being a democracy certainly India has its challenges and sometimes speed that one would observe in China would not be visible but what is important is the spirit of the nation and the reform agenda which is giving clear signals that it would be a massive economy within a very short span of time.”
Negative Attitude On Both Sides
Maskarola deplored the negative attitude Sri Lankans and Indians have towards each other, despite the existence of strong cultural, religious and historical affinity.
“Sri Lanka needs more economic wisdom and connectivity with India. The mindset of the majority of Sri Lankans is very negative when it comes to India although it is culturally, politically and religiously very close. But certain political elements have always used this negative perception to exploit political advantages making the economic opportunities to drift away,” he said.
Addressing Indians, Maskarola said: “On the other hand I always tell my Indian friends that India too saw Sri Lanka as a problem for its political stability due to the problems created by extremist elements of the north of Sri Lanka who try to take advantage of cultural connections of Tamil Nadu to distance bilateral engagement between the two nations. In fact, India has lost many golden opportunities in Sri Lanka as it never saw the economic opportunities in Sri Lanka until very recent times.”
Lanka Needs India More than India Needs Lanka
Maskarola emphasized that “it is Sri Lanka which needs India more than India needs Sri Lanka” as India is needed for Sri Lanka to grow economically.
“Much of the public in Sri Lanka is unaware that nearly 80% of the Port of Colombo business is Indian cargo owners shipping their exports and imports via Colombo using international shipping companies. The number of tourists visiting Sri Lanka has grown exponentially over the years and trade volumes with not-so-healthy environment have also expanded between the two countries.”
“The population of India is fast becoming an asset as it is creating enormous new markets to do business over the coming decades. The numbers are staggering, and this is an opportunity for Sri Lanka to open up its eyes to see what is sitting next to us just 27 nautical miles away.”
Current Slowdown Temporary
The Indian economy has indeed slowed down in the past year, but according to the IMF, this is temporary, Maskarola said.
“It was just last week IMF Chief Kristalina Georgieva said that growth slowdown in India appears to be temporary and she expects the momentum to improve going ahead. Speaking at the World Economic Forum 2020 at Davos, she said the world appears a better place in January 2020 compared to what it was when IMF announced its World Economic Outlook in October 2019,” Maskarola pointed out.
“All credible global institutions have agreed that India will be the third largest economy within the next 30 years and a relatively a young population will increase the pull towards new products and services. The recently published world economy growth charts by the IMF show the growth trajectory of the regions of the world for 2020-2021 and it seems that India is once again getting its momentum to 6%+ growth as China slows down.”
“Sri Lanka as a nation must see the potential to integrate more with India as we are a market smaller than the Municipal Council of Mumbai in terms of population.”
BIMSTEC Must By Fully Exploited
Maskarola said that Sri Lanka should look at the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) more carefully as its current chair.
“However, the Government’s response has been very negative to say the least, even a proposed coastal shipping arrangement and a partnership for feeder shipping with Bangladesh has been ignored,” he lamented.
“Since the signing of the Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement at the beginning of the century, we have failed to agree upon a comprehensive economic partnership with India. Whereas the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between Singapore and India to strengthen bilateral trade was signed in 2005 and the business is booming between the two nations.”
Winding up Maskarola said: “My advice to the Lankan Government and businesses is that the potential is huge. What is your take of a 10 trillion-dollar economy in 15 years’ time sitting next door? If Sri Lanka wants to prosper with a massive market next to us, we have to be pragmatic and work towards greater economic partnerships with India rather than wasting economic opportunities on cheap politics on the platform and confusing the ordinary public of this country and missing opportunities forever.”
(Outgoing Indian High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu, with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe)