Colombo, April 13 (www.newsexpress.lk): The Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has called for an integrated approach to building infrastructure in South and South East Asia in the light of the fact that regional and global powers are flaunting competing schemes for infrastructural development in the Indo-Pacific region.
Delivering the keynote address at the Business Forum organized by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) in Tokyo on Tuesday, the Si Lankan Prime Minister said that there is the US$ 100 billion Japanese aid to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for infrastructural development in the region; the Chinese “One Belt ,One Road” project; and India’s “Look East Policy.”
To this could be added projects like the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and the Bangladesh, India, China and Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation (BCIM).
But there needs to be a comprehensive approach Wickremesinghe stressed.
The Sri Lankan Prime Minister noted that Japanese Prime Minister Abe had met US President Donald Trump twice till now, showing the importance of Japan’s relations with the US, but regretted that economic relations were not on the agenda.
“Time is short,” Wickremesinghe he pointed out, and asked: “How can the Japanese government with other governments work out what the plan is and how connectivity is to be established on infrastructure, roads and institutions?”.
“In the next 20-30 years, the region is expected to have an additional population of 250 million people and the Japanese private sector has to invest here otherwise someone else will,” he warned, indirectly raising the China bogey
Sri Lanka itself has agreed to be part of China’s One Belt One Road Scheme through the Hambantota and Colombo ports, but is keen on involving India and Japan in infrastructural development in the eastern port city of Trincomalee.
Welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” which ensures freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region against threats to it coming from China, Wickremesinghe asked Japan to take on a more assertive role in developing the economic architecture of the Indian Ocean.
“Japan has become more important now as America shows reluctance to be involved in economics of the region, especially with its withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP,)” he said.
Calling for Japanese investment in Sri Lanka, he said that Sri Lanka could be a gateway between the Indo-Pacific Oceans and be a logistics and trade hub for Japan to access the rising middle class markets in Asia.
“It is in East Asia, South Asia, Middle East and Africa that you will find the rising middle class and the biggest consumer markets,” he said.
Sri Lanka is the best country for the Japanese private sector to focus on given its strategic location in the Indian Ocean and the access the country would provide through its various Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) to bigger markets, Wickremesinghe said.
“We want Japan to use Sri Lanka as a hub for trade. We expect to deepen our existing FTA with India through the Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA), expect to sign a FTA with Singapore and another with China. We also hope to talk to Japan, Indonesia and other ASEAN countries with regard to FTAs,” the Prime Minister explained.
With Sri Lanka also poised to become a “logistics hub”, the Prime Minister invited Japanese investment in the Colombo and Trincomalee Ports.
“The new Terminal at Colombo will soon be open for investment. We invite Japanese companies for a joint venture. We also hope to further expand Colombo Port to the North up to 8—10 miles reaching Ja-Ela, making it the largest in the Indian Ocean. In addition, we have also invited Japan to partner with India to develop the Trincomalee harbor.” he said.
The Prime Minister also announced that the government would offer a Separate Desk for Japanese Investors, a new set of tax incentives which will have generous depreciation and allow foreign investors to take out their profits out of Sri Lanka without paying any additional tax, a single window for investment, taskforce for FDIs and exports, taskforce on tourism and open up the economy further to encourage more investment into the country.
(The featured picture at the top is the of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe)