Indian High Commissioner calls out “defeatist” ETCA protestors with “vested interests”
Questions how they can be “self-styled experts” when no discussions held yet on proposed agreement
Points out Sri Lanka asked for ETCA, denies ambulance service is “Trojan Horse”
Dismisses concerns of Indian workers flooding local market, says Indian IT professionals highly-sought-after and SL can control migration
By Uditha Jayasinghe
India’s top official in Sri Lanka last week slammed the “absurd” and “defeatist attitude” of those protesting an expanded trade agreement between the two countries insisting their concerns are unfounded and would prevent economic growth.
India’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Y.K. Sinha was emphatically critical of protests against the proposed Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA), insisting that not only have no discussions been held yet, but Indian labour would not flood local sectors.
“I am surprised by the defeatist attitude being propagated by various groups, professionals and politicians. In an increasingly-globalised world countries that enhance economic cooperation stand to gain an edge,” he told a workshop on non-tariff measures and increasing awareness of Indian standards and regulations under the Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
He also called on the Opposition to stop linking the Indian ambulance grant as a “Trojan Horse” for ETCA stating that it was requested by Colombo and would only be continued at the discretion of the Sri Lankan Government. Such a measure would also provide 600 jobs to locals and save many others from death with emergency assistance.
“India has always recognised the asymmetry between our two countries.This was reflected in the FTA and will be considered in the ETCA. In upgrading our economic engagement we are sensitive to moving at a pace Sri Lanka is comfortable with; we are also keen to address any concerns that Sri Lankan stakeholders may have with the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement.”
Sinha outlined the growing number of companies doing business in India and stressed that while a few failures did happen, overall the FTA has been beneficial to Sri Lanka and increased exports to India 13-fold since 2000.
“We must also remember that the Free Trade Agreement was perhaps the first agreement between our countries and there has been a learning process since then, this is reflective in the improvement of the changes that have been made to ease doing business through the FTA. We are very responsive to genuine grievances of Sri Lankan exporters. The Indo-Lanka FTA has been in force for 15 years and it is time to see how it can be expanded.”
Referring to the unsuccessful Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), Sinha noted ETCA was proposedby Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and suggested timelines. He acknowledged New Delhi has received “some preliminary ideas from the Sri Lankan side and we look forward to more discussions in the coming months, to date we have not received any formal text from the Government of Sri Lanka. Some ideas put down on a document were shared with us two days ago.”
“The actions of ETCA have not been discussed as suggested by parties with vested interests, some claim to have seen the final text while others allegesinister Indian designs; yet others, claiming to be professional organisations, are happy to present themselves as self-styled experts on all aspects of the ETCA. What I will say is that they all appear to be driven by their own political interests and narrow agendas. We are waiting to see what the Sri Lankan side has in mind about the ETCA.”
The most common fear is that millions of Indians will come to Sri Lanka to take away jobs, Sinha noted, but assured that even during the previous CEPA round there were only two sectors where services were opened upand employment was linked to Indianinvestment so migration was limited to a small percentage of jobs.
“I assure you Indian IT professionals are not unemployed, underpaid or technically incompetent. They are employed all around the world, you have heard of Silicon Valley and Bangalore…. I assure you Sri Lanka will not get ‘Bangalore-ed’. I can imagine no situation under ETCA where millions of Indians will come to work in Sri Lanka and that too in low skilled sectors. “
Even under the World Trade Organisation (WTO), only one trade regulation promotes free movement of people between countries, he pointed out, adding that even if ETCA allows for labour migration, it would be in the power of Sri Lankan authorities to monitor border controls including work visas to limit people flow. He also noted it was “absurd” to assume that India needs ETCA more than Sri Lanka because it has a larger number of unemployed people.
“We must also note Sri Lanka has a very competitive services sector of the 154 weekly flights from Colombo to multiple destinations in India more than 75% are operated by SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka. I don’t see Air India and other Indian airlines up in arms about this. Nearly 70% of the transhipment cargo handled by Colombo Port is India related but we don’t have an Indian company for port activities,” he stressed, calling on the public to take a wider view of their neighbour.