Sep 1 (ArabNews) – Sri Lanka is seeking to boost energy cooperation with Saudi Arabia and has invited the Kingdom to set up a refinery in the South Asian nation, a special envoy of President Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Tuesday.
Environment Minister Naseer Ahamed arrived in Riyadh on Sunday as special envoy of the Sri Lankan president and has since held meetings with officials from the Kingdom, including Saudi Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Waleed Al-Khuraiji and CEO of the Saudi Fund for Development Sultan Al-Marshad.
Ahamed, who assumed his ministerial duties in late May and also oversees Middle Eastern affairs, told Arab News in an exclusive interview that improving cooperation with Saudi Arabia would be helpful in “easing the current economic crisis” in Sri Lanka.
The nation of 22 million people is facing its worst economic crisis since independence. For months people have suffered severe shortages of essentials, such as food, medicines and fuel, as the inflation rate surged to a record 60.8 percent in July.
“We are offering Saudi Arabia to have its own refinery in Sri Lanka,” Ahamed said in a phone interview.
“We can also provide enough storage facilities on the island which could cover the region.”
Colombo is seeking to “form long-term relations” with Saudi Arabia in the energy and fuel sectors, including for the supply of gas and crude oil.
Sri Lanka has been struggling to find critical funding to finance essential imports, with its existing stock of petrol and diesel all but dry. The crisis had seen long queues of drivers at gas pumps across the country earlier this year, when people waited for days to fill their vehicles.
Ahamed said that Saudi’s 2030 Vision, a reform plan designed to diversify the Kingdom’s economy, could also benefit Sri Lanka.
“As you know, Saudi Arabia is one of the major economic powers in the region, especially in the field of energy sector. The 2030 Vision of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has attracted the whole world including Sri Lanka,” Ahamed said.
“Our president wants to make use of this Vision by cooperating with the Kingdom to develop its goals and also to benefit from such developments, which would improve the Saudi-Lanka energy security cooperation.”
Ahamed is optimistic that stronger energy cooperation will boost bilateral trade to billions of dollars from the current $300 million, and “enable Sri Lanka to buy oil with long-term conditions.”
Sri Lanka is also seeking to tap Saudi investors for the country’s mining industry, he said.
As his Saudi trip was set to conclude on Wednesday, Ahamed was optimistic about the outcome of his visit.
“We are positive that Saudi Arabia will help Sri Lanka in granting some relief by supporting our projects and open up new areas of cooperation to strengthen the bilateral relations,” he said.