Qatar seeks Lankan support for critical WTO call

Wednesday, 24 September 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The world’s richest country has called for Sri Lanka’s support for its WTO initiative on natural gas and also signalled its keenness for larger bilateral trade and economic engagement with Sri Lanka. “Both countries, despite having huge potential and keenness to expand areas of cooperation on economy, commerce and investment, have not optimised and promoted the aspirations. This means there should be greater effort and we should pursue these objectives more vigorously,” announced State of Qatar Minister of Economy and Commerce Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim bin Mohamed Al Thani. “We also look forward to Sri Lanka’s support for our initiative on natural gas and derivatives of environmental goods which has been submitted to the World Trade Organization,” he added. Al Thani was addressing the opening session of the first Qatar-Sri Lanka Joint Economic Cooperation session held at Four Seasons Hotel, Doha on 14 September, in which Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen was taking part, along with a 10-member strong high-level Sri Lankan trade and official delegation. Officials from Ministries of Finance and Planning, Fisheries, Cultural Affairs and Industry and Commerce as well as Department of Planning were among the members of the Lankan delegation, including Department of Commerce DG R.D.S. Kumararatne who led the Sri Lankan side at the technical sessions. In April 2012, during Bathiudeen’s meeting with Qatar Minister of Business and Trade Jasim bin Abdulaziz bin Jasim Al Thani on the sidelines of UNCTAD General Assembly Session held at the Qatari National Convention Centre, Doha, Minister Bathiudeen said: “Sri Lanka has already initiated necessary action to form a Joint Council to facilitate effective implementation of the Agreement. We are now interested in convening the First Joint Council meeting between Sri Lanka and Qatar under the 2012 Agreement.” The latest 14 September session at Four Seasons Hotel is the result of this intimation. “The signing of an Agreement on Economic, Commercial and Technical Cooperation and the Agreement for the Reciprocal Promotion and Protection of Investments, between the two countries in 2012, for example and many other Agreements and Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) with various entities in Sri Lanka, shows that both countries, despite having huge potentials and keenness to expand areas of cooperation on economy, commerce and investment, have not fully exploited this potential in order to optimize and promote the aspirations of our peoples and our responsibility towards both sides” said Minister bin Mohamed Al Thani. He added: “This means that there should be greater effort and we should pursue these objectives more vigorously in order to implement the outcome of the current meeting. I do like to point out that we, in the State of Qatar, appreciate what Sri Lankan companies are doing in the State of Qatar in the fields of constructions, services and furniture. We also look forward to more of Sri Lankan private sector contribution in the promotion of trade and development. However, there has been only a marginal volume of bilateral trade estimated at Qatari Riyal 327 m in 2013, which is still below our expectations. As those who are responsible, we look forward to the further expansion and overcoming of all constraints and obstacles which impact the movement of trade between the two countries. “This actually refers to the need for more efforts to enhance the trade and open more investment opportunities through the promotion and improvement of relations between our two sides and through the Chambers of Commerce and Industry. We should also exchange visits by businessmen. We look forward to enhancing opportunities for cultural exchanges, the establishment of trade fairs and cultural events to understand and recognise the culture and heritage of both parties and their different products.” He also called for Sri Lanka’s support for its request to the WTO to deem natural gas and its derivatives as “environmentally-friendly products”. The wide availability of oil and gas reserves has made Qatar the world’s highest per-capita income country. In 2013, the State of Qatar topped World Bank’s GDP per capita (on purchasing power parity-PPP) list, with a per capita value of $ 131,758. According to the Department of Commerce of Sri Lanka, Qatar is Sri Lanka’s 33rd import partner and 65th export partner. In 2013, bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and Qatar stood at $ 66 m, with Sri Lanka’s top exports to Qatar being nuts and other seeds, plantains, tea and fresh fruit (in that order). 67% of imports from Qatar (in 2013) were plastics, followed by fertilisers (27%), and petroleum gases (4.4%). As for WTO, Sri Lanka joined the WTO on 1 January 1995. 2013 Trade was in favour of Qatar. “The first meeting of the Sri Lanka-Qatar Joint Commission on Economic, Commercial and Technical Cooperation, would lay a firm foundation for the two countries to further solidify the existing cordial relations and elevate them to new heights. As we observe, there is a political will on the part of both sides at the highest level for the enhancement of the mutual cooperation between our two countries,” said Bathiudeen, in his opening remarks at the session. He added: “The visit of the Emir of the State of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani to Sri Lanka in 2012, the visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to attend the 12th Doha Forum in May 2012 and the visit of Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al Thani to Sri Lanka in 2011 reflect the political will at the highest level to solidify the already existing strong relations between our two countries. I must put on record that the visit of Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani to Sri Lanka in 2012 was the first visit to Sri Lanka by a Head of State from the State of Qatar. “The visit marked a significant milestone in Sri Lanka-Qatari relations. Nine bilateral agreements/MoUs were inked between the two countries covering investment, economic cooperation, tourism, education, agriculture and legal fields in addition to the agreement signed for the formation of a high joint committee between Qatar and Sri Lanka. I must say that the above agreements and MOUs have been signed in a timely manner. These instruments can effectively be used to synchronise the economic interests of the State of Qatar with Sri Lanka’s high economic growth trajectory. “In 2013, our total trade with Qatar stood at $ 66 million and trade was in favour of Qatar. Sri Lanka being a founder member of the GATT 1994 as well as WTO has been fully committed to liberal and market-oriented economic policies aimed at achieving greater integration into the world economy. Sri Lanka has been an active participant in the Doha Development Agenda, having tabled together with other countries, various proposals. Sri Lanka is progressing towards becoming South Asia’s Economic hub through promoting the five hub strategy. The country’s Doing Business global rank has reached the 81st level, up from 102nd in 2010.” Delegations from both Qatar and Sri Lanka successfully concluded the first Qatar-Sri Lanka Joint Economic Cooperation sessions on 15 September in Doha, Qatar.