Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif
- Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
Sharif extends goodwill to Sri Lankan companies with open arms, invites investment, and promises support
Sets bilateral trade target of $1b, proposes services inclusion in FTA, trade exhibitions mooted
Currency Swap considered, wants maritime and defence cooperation
By Uditha Jayasinghe
Seeking to re-energise lacklustre economic relations Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yesterday rolled out extensive plans to push forward engagement and investment centred on including services in the existing Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries.
Attending to a packed agenda during his tour Sharif rolled out his measures to target $1 billion in bilateral trade between the two countries during several speeches made at different events including an address delivered on Sri Lanka- Pakistan relations.
“The two countries have agreed on the inclusion of services and investments chapters in the bilateral FTA. This would enable our companies to form joint ventures for export to third countries. Given the strategic location of our two countries the opening of the services sector also holds a lot of potential, which needs to be exploited,” he said.
India has been negotiating with Sri Lanka to expand the Indo-Lanka FTA to include services for nearly a decade and a half but has faced stiff opposition from local businesses who have protested the move on the grounds it could flood local markets with Indian imports.
The Sri Lankan Government has insisted it will carefully consider the impact of signing a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with its closest neighbour. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last month promised to sign an economic and technology cooperation agreement with India and China.
The volume of trade between Sri Lanka and Pakistan has been estimated at about $325 million a year significantly behind the $4.7 billion between India and Sri Lanka. However, Sharif insisted he is dedicated to bridging this divide.
“I would like to invite Sri Lankan businessmen to Pakistan to reap the peace dividend of Pakistan that is benefitting from rapid economic growth and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as well as other multi-billion dollar investments. My Government is willing to provide duty free and quota free access to a large number of priority projects and of Sri Lankan exports to Pakistan. I also assure you that my Government will support all endeavours made by Sri Lankan business houses to market their products in Pakistan and enhance their business relations,” he noted.
The Pakistani Prime Minister earmarked energy, consumer goods, food and agriculture, housing, healthcare, education, financial services, capital markets, information technology, oil and gas and infrastructure sectors of Pakistan as holding opportunities for Sri Lankan companies. He also encouraged investment in Pakistan special economic zones, which he stressed, provide numerous investment incentives.
Exchanging business delegations and holding trade exhibitions were also seen as crucial by Sharif. A Pakistan single country exhibition is being organised in Colombo from 15-17 January 2016 and the Export Development Board of Sri Lanka was invited to organise a similar exhibition in Karachi or any other city.
In addition to cooperation between the respective private sectors of the two countries Sharif said his Government will also consider joint investments and a currency Swap arrangement between Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Sri Lanka enjoys a key position in the Indian Ocean and has much to offer in terms of maritime cooperation, peace and security in the region, he stated, adding “Pakistan desires an honest maritime cooperation with Sri Lanka and seeks increased engagement between the two armed forces.”
“My vision is for a dispute free South Asia, where instead of fighting each other, we jointly take on poverty, disease, and malnourishment and invest in our youth to unleash their intelligence, talent and enterprise. We look forward to play our part in achieving peace and prosperity in South Asia. We owe it to our people and succeeding generations.”
Recalling in detail the deep history between the two countries and the role Pakistan has played in the fortunes of South Asia, Sharif reiterated his goodwill towards Sri Lanka.
“The people of Sri Lanka are close to the hearts of the people of Pakistan.”