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SL to work as collaborator to gain from regional integration: Malik


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Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama said Sri Lanka has to see itself as a collaborator alongside the other regional economies, rather than a competitor in the narrowest sense, while describing India as a ‘big prize’ they intend to take advantage of.

Addressing the launch of World Bank’s South Asia Regional Flagship Report in Colombo yesterday, he said that at a time when there was a lot of uncertainty around global trade integration, the South Asian region had much to gain from greater regional integration.

“Within South Asia we have to keep our eye on the big prize, which is India. The Indian middle-class consumer market alone is forecast to soon be 10 times larger than Sri Lanka’s whole population. Even if we tap into a small slice of that, it would be a game-changer for our exporters,” he added.

Acknowledging that the Indian market isn’t easy, he said the Government was working on the ongoing ETCA negotiations, pushing strongly on this agenda, and believes that there will be a breakthrough in the coming months. 

“We aware of what needs to change, and on top of that list is non-tariff measures. It is also on top of our list of things. Already we are working with the Food Safety and Standard Authority India (FSSAI) to accredit Sri Lankan labs so that our food and beverage exports to India don’t face difficulties like in the past. The Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary and Technical Barriers to Trade (SPS – TBT) established by our Ministry is now working on further measures like this,” he added. 

Samarawickrama said that they appointed the ‘Break Into India Strategy Committee,’ comprising leaders from top Sri Lankan enterprises who have succeeded in the Indian market, to distil the key lessons learnt and formulate a strategy to help Sri Lankan firms export to, and invest in, India.

“Trade barriers within the South Asian region have hindered Sri Lanka from fully reaping the benefits of proximity to regional markets, and this is an agenda all our countries have to work on collectively and make some real progress – whether it is through the SAFTA, or bilaterally like what we are doing with India,” he stressed.

Insisting on the need to tackle the obstacles that have hindered Sri Lanka’s overall international trade performance for many decades, he said alongside the planned tariff rationalisation, the Government had formulated a Trade Adjustment Program (TAP) in consultation with a wide range of industry stakeholders. 

“The T.A.P. will have a Trade and Productivity Commission, where industry can make justifiable representations relating to tariff rationalisation matters and obtain a meaningful and sensible level of adjustment assistance from the Government. The T.A.P. will be launched soon, once receiving final Cabinet approval,” the Minister said.

Having glanced through the report, he said one of the findings that struck him was that Sri Lanka had the potential to grow its exports to South Asia by more than two times, if the right ingredients were worked on.

“With the growing South Asian market at our doorstep, growing our exports to this region should certainly become a top priority. Of course, realising this potential export growth to the region won’t happen automatically, we have to work hard, we have to support our enterprises to seek out and exploit the opportunities. For this, already we have several initiatives underway. Many of the reforms we are doing are tough, they won’t bring gains overnight, but they must be done. We should see them in a positive and optimistic light – just like the title of the report – as a ‘glass half full,’” he emphasised.


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