Mr. Rajapaksa wanted the government to take a “phased approach” on the ETCA issue
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday urged the Sri Lanka government to proceed “cautiously” on the proposed Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India.
Even as he called for a “robust trade relationship” with the neighbouring country, Mr. Rajapaksa wanted the government to take a “phased approach” on the issue. Initially, “impediments to the implementation of the existing FTA [Free Trade Agreement] with India should be ironed out. The problem of Indian fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters which has now reached crisis proportions should also be sorted out at this stage to create an atmosphere of trust between the people of the two countries,” he said, adding that on observing, “for a few years,” the working of the FTA to the “satisfaction of Sri Lankan stakeholders,” the next phase could be taken up and the specific details be worked out to broaden the relationship through the ETCA.
His statement comes after India’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Y.K. Sinha expressed “surprise” over reported observations of Mr. Rajapaksa against the ETCA.
Suggesting that “experiences” of the FTA be learnt, the former President said there were “many problems” in implementation of the Agreement. “Issues such as ports of entry, product certification, mutual recognition of standards, Indian state laws governing trade and the caps imposed on certain export items from Sri Lanka all became issues that prevented Sri Lanka from achieving its full export potential to the Indian market,” he said.
[Mr. Sinha, in his speech on Friday, acknowledging that there had not been much increase in Sri Lankan exports to India since 2005, wondered whether this was due to “limited” base of the exports. He added that that the regulatory framework in India was “non-discriminatory.”]
Stressing that the country’s focus should be to get India to open up “without restrictions” on Sri Lanka’s main commodities of exports such as apparel and tea, Mr. Rajapaksa cautioned the government that “trying to broaden the trade relationship with India without sorting out existing problems, will naturally give rise to public opposition.”
He demanded that the government to take into confidence Parliament, trade chambers, professional bodies and the public before making any decision on the pact. The “arrogant attitude” of the government may end up ruining “our chances of forging a mutually beneficial trade partnership with our neighbour,” he added.