By Hiran H.Senewiratne
President Ranil Wickremesinghe has instructed the relevant local authorities to resume discussions/talks to expedite the signing of a Free Trade Agreement with Nepal, which process came to a standstill from May onwards due to Sri Lanka’s political instability, Nepalese ambassador to Sri Lanka Bashu Dev Mishra said.
“Sri Lanka and Nepal have enormous potential for trade and investment, which could be harnessed well. President Wickremesinghe’s efforts to expedite the signing process of the Free Trade Agreement will enable to develop more trade and investment opportunities for both countries, ambassador Dev Mishra told The Island Financial Review at an event to celebrate the National (Constitutional) Day of Nepal last Wednesday, held at Hotel Taj Samudra.
Ambassador Mishra added: ‘At present the total trade value of both countries is around US $ 90 million, out of which Nepal imports goods to the value of US $ 75 million from Sri Lanka, while Sri Lanka’s imports from Nepal amount to less than US $ 25 million. Therefore, the trade balance is in favour of Sri Lanka, which could be developed once the Free Trade Agreement is signed in future.
‘Once the FTA is signed air traffic will also be increased and at present five Sri Lanka airline flights arrive in Nepal per week. Further, Sri Lanka is one of the top five countries where Nepalese tourism is concerned.
‘Currently Nepal imports tea, pharmaceuticals, rubber and many more items, while Sri Lanka imports only ornaments into the country. With the signing of the FTA, Sri Lanka could invest in mineral water projects, tourism sector projects and vice versa.’
President, Sri Lanka- Nepal Business Council Jagath Savanadasa said that the Commerce Department of Sri Lanka sought information from the Council to recommend Nepal’s membership to the World Trade Organization. ‘WTO admits least developed countries into their membership, which enables such countries to obtain trade and investment benefits, he said.
‘Nepal, yet considered a least developed country, secured support from Sri Lanka to obtain WTO membership due to the longstanding relationship between both countries. Once the FTA is signed Sri Lankan investors could penetrate other countries with whom Nepal is already having FTAs, Savanadasa said.