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P’ment approval for FTAs needless: Malik

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Presenting Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) before Parliament was not mandatory by Sri Lankan law International Trade and Development Strategies Minister Malik Samarawickarama said this week, insisting that if detractors pinpointed the exact clause that could be disadvantageous to Sri Lanka it would be addressed by the Government.   

Responding to questions at the panel discussion held at the Daily FT-University of Colombo MBA Alumni Association-organised and HSBC-supported CEOs Forum, Samarawickrama on Monday insisted that all FTAs discussed by the Government were done with Attorney General oversight and there was no legal requirement to present the agreements before Parliament. 

“There is no legal necessity to present FTAs before Parliament. However, I have said that I would present the Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) before Parliament because there are many concerns about how it would affect our economy,” he told the gathering. 

Many professional organisations had earlier called on the Government to present the Sri Lanka-Singapore FTA before Parliament. In response to the detractors, Minister Samarawickrama insisted that professional bodies had been consulted several times and some of their overarching concerns were being addressed by his ministry. However, he stressed that much misleading information had also been spread by groups with vested interests and the Government was simultaneously working to improve the business environment for local companies while planning liberalisation in stages. 

He insisted that even though professional organisations had protested the FTAs they had failed to highlight exactly what point of concern was detrimental to the best interests of Sri Lanka and said that if this was done it would be taken into consideration by the concerned parties.  

“If they tell us exactly what the issue is, exactly which clause in the agreement and how it would be disadvantageous to Sri Lanka we will certainly look into it. The FTAs are negotiated by competent professionals who are dedicated to getting the best possible deal for Sri Lanka,” he said.          

The Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is key in this new outlook, which the Minister noted as “the strongest step ever taken to bring Sri Lanka closer to ASEAN.” He argued the recently-inked FTA was a signal to ASEAN that Sri Lanka was interested in doing business and serious about reform. He highlighted single windows, fast-tracked investor approval, new investment zones and efforts to push Sri Lanka up the World Bank Ease of Doing Business rankings.   

Addressing the skeptics, the Minister said: “Despite what you may hear, we kept our national interest front and centre when negotiating the FTA. We negotiated cleverly, and we believe it is a very good agreement that will strengthen our economic prospects. The Singaporean FTA is a strong step to closer integration with ASEAN.”  

The Minister acknowledged there would be different opinions on the issue of liberalisation, but insisted that Sri Lanka would need to take this journey if it wanted good jobs and sustained growth.

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