‘SL should expedite signing FTA with China and expand scope of same instrument with India’

Tharaka Balasuriya

By Hiran H.Senewiratne

Sri Lanka should expedite signing Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with big countries like China and also expand the current scope of the FTA with India, rather than sign FTAs with small countries, State Minister of External Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya said.

“At present India has signed FTAs with several countries and could use Sri Lanka as a spring board to penetrate those markets through India, Balasuriya told The Island Financial Review.

Balasuriya added: “Sri Lanka has signed FTAs with India, Pakistan and Singapore and is currently negotiating an FTA with China, which would immensely benefit the economy. Both India and China are considered countries with high growth trajectories.

“Sri Lanka imports more than US $ 3.6 billion from China, while only US $ 500 million worth exports go to China from Sri Lanka. Therefore, Sri Lanka has to look for an increase in export trade volumes in order to reap real benefit from FTAs.

“Further, India is Sri Lanka’s second largest trading partner with the bilateral merchandise trade amounting to about USD $ 3.6 billion. Sri Lankan exports to India have increased substantially since 2000 when the FTA came into force and more than 60 per cent of Sri Lanka’s total exports to India over the past few years have used FTA benefits.

“Interestingly, only about 5 percent of India’s total exports to Sri Lanka in the past few years have used the FTA provisions, thereby indicating their overall competitiveness in the Sri Lankan market.

“Therefore, further expanding the FTA with India will enable Sri Lanka to penetrate other markets, where countries have signed FTAs with India.

“Since the balance of trade is not in favour of Sri Lanka, the government uses some synergy to promote exports and foreign trade in order to bring dollars into the country. In order to continually do so all import/export authorities, including the Export Development Board, Department of Commerce, Sri Lanka Customs and other line institutions should come under the Foreign Ministry umbrella.

“Sri Lanka regained the European Union’s (EU) Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) privileges for Sri Lankan exports. The trade preferences under GSP+ consists of the full removal of duties on 66 per cent tariff lines, covering a wide array of products including textiles and fisheries. The GSP+ scheme is conditional upon Sri Lanka advancing human and labour rights and on working towards sustainable development.

“Macroeconomic stability and manageable inflation are important barometers for trade with European Union countries. Because of the current 70 per cent food inflation and unstable economic conditions, it will not be feasible to think of smooth trade with EU countries.”

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