Following is the address by High Commissioner of India Taranjit Singh Sandhu at the ninth Annual General Meeting of the Indo-Lanka Chamber of Commerce & Industry
It is a pleasure to be here, at the ninth Annual General Meeting of the Indo-Lanka Chamber of Commerce and Industry. IL CCI is unique – the only joint business chamber of Sri Lanka and India in Colombo! I was keen to be here with all of you, and I very much appreciate the adjustment you made in rescheduling this event.
IL CCI was built by friends of both India and Sri Lanka under the aegis of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce more than a decade ago. I am happy to note that your efforts to deepen and strengthen economic partnership between our great countries have indeed borne fruits.
Economic relations have become an important element in any bilateral relations today. However old the ties are, however strong the civilisational links are, to use Prime Minister Modi’s terminology in his address to Ceylon Chambers in March 2015, “economic cooperation is often the locomotive that gives it momentum”. I consider the business chambers as the wheels of the locomotive.
You channelise and catalyse economic and commercial ties. You create opportunities. As a wise man said, opportunities do not happen; they are created.
Perceptions matter in everyday life; however, it matters the most in business. Your perceptions about the economy can have a powerful impact on the economy itself. Your paintbrush can colour others’ vision. This also means that you have a huge responsibility.
You are not just a collection of Indian and Sri Lankan companies. You are one among those few groups who know India and Sri Lanka equally well. You have seen and experienced both yourself. I consider your ground knowledge as an important tool to bridge asymmetry of information.
I am glad that a delegation from Indo-Lanka Chamber of Commerce and Industry visited Mumbai to take part in the Make in India Week last year. We would be happy to facilitate more such visits.
As Government, our aim is to create tangible and sustainable opportunities for the benefit of the people in both countries. We need to look ahead. We need to dream high. What we can achieve together is limited only by our collective imagination.
Winds of reforms
The winds of reforms are sweeping across India. The impact of the reforms has made India, a land of limitless possibilities and endless opportunities. The launch of Goods and Services Tax from 1 July is a milestone in the economic history of India. The creation of ‘One Nation; One Market; One Tax’ is expected to generate several positive externalities. Economists are predicting an addition of 2% growth in India’s GDP from the roll out of GST.
Skill, scale and speed have become the new mantra. Several thousands of processes and procedures have been revised with an aim to facilitate, genuine business. We are aware that we have to do much more and we are in the process. Your feedback on what more could be done is important for us.
India is a big country; therefore nothing is enough when it comes to development. But that is our strength and your opportunity. The size of the Indian market, should not scare anyone or act as a deterrent. Our size is a big opportunity – it creates enough space for everyone.
India’s growth is not in the interest of India alone. As my PM has said, our friends and partners, especially our neighbours, have the first claim on the fruits of India’s growth. Sabka sath, Sabka vikas captures this vision. Together we progress.
Sri Lanka has also started its journey, with renewed vigour, in meeting the developmental aspirations, of its people. We want to make this journey faster and easier. In doing so, we want to ensure that the journey is as important as the destination itself.
India-Sri Lanka bilateral ties
We are at a very special moment in the history of India-Sri Lanka bilateral ties. The frequency of summits and high-level meetings has in a way been unprecedented.
We note with deep appreciation that President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake visited India for their first overseas trips. In March 2015, Prime Minister Modi made a landmark visit to Sri Lanka, which happened after 28 years. In less than two years, in May 2017, our Prime Minister made a standalone visit to Sri Lanka as the Chief Guest, at the UN International Vesak Day celebrations, which Sri Lanka had the privilege of hosting for the first time.
We are happy that we have been able to achieve concrete outcomes from these high-level visits. We signed a MoU for cooperation in joint economic projects during the visit of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to India in April this year. The MoU identifies specific projects in sectors, such as energy, power, roads, ports, railways, etc. We are closely working with Sri Lankan authorities for timely implementation of these projects.
Our development partnership with Sri Lanka currently stands at $ 2.6 billion. We are ready to strengthen our development partnership further based on Sri Lanka’s needs.
We intend to make substantial investments in Sri Lanka in conventional and non-conventional energy in the days ahead. Considering that LNG is a cheaper and cleaner fuel, we are sharing our expertise and skillset with Sri Lanka to facilitate the process of gasification, of the Sri Lankan economy. We also see huge potential in Sri Lanka for wind and solar energy as well. India has made rapid advance in solar technology and we are ready to share it with Sri Lanka.
We have also identified hard infrastructure and connectivity projects in Sri Lanka, including roads, railways, ports, etc. for joint development.
Certain sections, who may not be very well informed, unfortunately have been trying to portray that Sri Lankan interests would be harmed when some of these projects take off. Nothing could be further from the truth. These are joint projects. These projects bring huge investments and valuable foreign exchange for Sri Lanka. They create several thousands of direct and indirect jobs. These projects only bring benefits to Sri Lanka. You are practical and pragmatic. We would like you to project the right message in your interactions.
When India and Sri Lanka entered into an FTA in 2000, it was a first for both countries. Total bilateral trade has increased eight times since then. Share of FTA items in Sri Lanka’s exports to India increased from 16% in 2000 to more than 65% in recent years. Majority of Sri Lanka’s exports to India are through FTA.
On the other hand, share of FTA items in India’s exports to Sri Lanka increased from 9% in 2000 to just 13% in recent years. Majority of India’s exports to Sri Lanka are outside the FTA. The facts and figures show FTA has indeed been beneficial to Sri Lanka.
There are several Sri Lankan companies who have crafted their own success stories, by becoming part of global supply and value chains. We need to create more such stories.
We have been working towards expanding the contours of the FTA to cover investments and services. The proposed Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement is in mutual interest. However, I would like to reiterate that we are ready to move at a pace Sri Lanka is comfortable with.
What Sri Lanka means to India
On what Sri Lanka means to India, we are happy that SriLankan Airlines is currently the largest foreign carrier to India. India also contributes significantly towards Sri Lankan tourism, with an estimated 400,000 Indians visiting Sri Lanka annually.
Sri Lanka has been providing MRO services to Indian airline companies. Similarly, Colombo Dockyard have been supplying vessels to India and has also been actively engaged in ship repair business with India. More than 70% of Colombo Port transhipment is India-related, an important lifeline for Colombo Port. I could go on and on.
Where do we go from here? What more could we do together?
First, I would urge you, as individuals, as firms and as chambers to not only promote connectivity between India and Sri Lanka, but also to make use of it yourself. Your participation in business and investor-meets in India would help to understand the changed realities; it would also provide opportunities to make new contacts.
Secondly, as chambers, you have a crucial role to play in disseminating right information. If there is an opportunity coming up, please pass it on. You also need to put things in perspective. The High Commission has started a monthly High Impact Economic News, highlighting important economic policy decisions and developments in India. We will request the chamber to share it with its members.
Last but not the least, if there are positive stories, let the world know. If there are not-so-positive stories and you are in difficulty, let us know. We will be happy to provide all support to resolve it.
We at the High Commission will do all we can to strengthen the pillars of cooperation between our two great nations. India is ready to partner Sri Lanka in its important journey of development and share experience, expertise and technology!
I wish you the very best in all your future endeavours.