“Let’s work together for a better Sri Lanka and better Pakistan”

Thursday, 23 June 2011 00:20 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The 18th Annual General Meeting of the Sri Lanka-Pakistan Business Council was held recently at the Board Room of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. The High Commissioner of Pakistan Seema Ilahi Baloch addressed the Sri Lanka Pakistan Business Council. Following is the High Commissioner’s address at the event:


Honourable members of the Executive Committee of the Sri Lanka Pakistan Business Council, ladies and gentlemen, it is a matter of great honour and privilege for me to be with you this afternoon.

The year 2011 is very significant – it is the 2,600th year of Enlightenment of Lord Buddha. The Government of Pakistan has joined the people of Sri Lanka in the celebrations by contributing very significant relics, which are now being displayed at Maligakanda Vidyodaya Maha Pirivena.

At the same time, we have another celebration in the offing. It is also the 20th year since the incorporation of the Sri Lanka Pakistan Business Council, established in August 1991. I would like to take this opportunity to felicitate the Business Council and its members on 20 years of affiliation and cooperation.

We have come a long way in the 20 years. In 1991, bilateral trade between Pakistan and Sri Lanka was worth US$ 96.72 million and in 2010; it stood at US$ 349.76 million. The growth is about 2.6 times. But even this growth does not reflect the true commercial potential of the two countries.

On the political front the relations between Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been on an upward trajectory. As friends and neighbours, our two countries have consistently supported each other in times of national crisis.

We in Pakistan cannot forget the logistical and political support Sri Lanka extended to us in 1971 when it opened its refuelling facilities for us. Nor can we forget your generous assistance during the recent floods in Pakistan.

We, in our own humble way, have tried to help Sri Lanka, in whatever we can. We have tried to contribute to Sri Lanka’s endeavour to achieve peace for its people and in times of floods and after the tsunami.

The terror attacks on our High Commissioner in 2006 and the terror attack on your cricket team in 2009 have not marred our relations because they are rooted in history they are bound by geography, and they are cemented by the colour of our skin.

Our two peoples have learnt resilience after going through difficult periods, but we can be proud that our peoples have also learnt to bounce back after a crisis.

The challenges your country has faced in the last few decades seemed insurmountable. Your success in facing and overcoming the ordeal speaks volumes of your resilience as a people.

Today your President’s economic policies, enshrined in the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ and based on infrastructure development, privatisation, reforms, and strengthening of export-oriented growth have helped revive the economy’s performance, taking the GDP growth to 8.5% this year. While the world is recovering from the effects of global recession, Sri Lanka’s growth is second only to China.

In our case, the recent devastating floods have affected our economy. But, we have taken measures, not only to curtail the spill-over effect of this jolt, but also to stabilise economic growth. Our policies remain consistent.

In the wake of this calamity the IMF recently extended a package to us as we adopted prudent monetary and fiscal policies to bring economy back on track. Maintaining a focused approach, and with this momentum, we are sure that our growth rate would climb to four to five per cent this year.

International economic monitoring agencies like World Bank are satisfied with the economic policies of the government. We are following a long-sighted economic plan to maintain the momentum of economic growth. By 2012, our economy is expected to fully regain its traction.

Pakistan has one of the most liberal trade and investment regimes in Asia. Ease of doing business is improving. New avenues are being explored. It is now an opportune moment to further build our economic linkages.

Pakistan is the second largest trading partner of Sri Lanka within the South Asian region. Sri Lanka was the first country to sign a FTA with Pakistan. Under the Free Trade Agreement, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have agreed to offer preferential market access to each others’ exports by granting tariff concessions. Sri Lanka would be able to enjoy duty free market access on 206 products in the Pakistani market. Pakistan, in return, would gain duty free access on 102 products in the Sri Lankan market.

The overarching bilateral economic architecture between Pakistan and Sri Lanka is however, restricted only to trade in goods.

A Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) including trade in services as well as investment promotion will boost trade between both countries. It would be beneficial both for Sri Lanka and for Pakistan to move forward on CEPA. We need to urge the businessmen and traders to explore commercial opportunities especially in the non-traditional sectors which could be mutually beneficial for both the countries.

There is a huge potential for increased trade in light engineering goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, processed goods, textiles, cement and clinker, pharmaceuticals, and industrial chemicals, to name a few. The Free Trade Agreement has provisions which would facilitate enhanced trade. It is also up to the business community to provide feedback to the respective governments and identify bottlenecks in the existing trade mechanism.

Federations of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of our two countries have signed an Agreement during the visit of President of Pakistan. I am confident that with more business-to-business interactions – including participation in trade fairs, single country exhibitions, know-how of market trends in Pakistan and Sri Lanka – the commercial activity can be increased.

We are a large market of over 160 million people. The businessmen on our side and here need to explore the market we have to offer. We need to take full advantage of the Free Trade Agreement, the Bilateral Investment Treaty, Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement and more recently an agreement on Customs Cooperation signed between our two countries.

Pakistan is keen to enhance trade with Sri Lanka and identify investment opportunities in Sri Lanka. But increased interaction through exchange of business delegations is required to fully realise the potential of trade, joint ventures and possible investments. The proximity between our two countries could be a valuable trade facilitator.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement as well, since both our countries give due significance to regional cooperation in promoting peace, stability and development of SAARC region.

The opportunities for joint ventures are immense and in wide ranging sectors be it in the development of infrastructure or in the tourism sector. Let us work together for a better Sri Lanka and for a better Pakistan. Our security concerns are also similar. Pakistan is committed to living in peace and harmony with all its neighbours. We also understand that SAARC as a regional group can become more effective for economic development of its member countries if we resolve our political issues with India including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

We hope you appreciate that just as Sri Lanka has not compromised on its integral issues of sovereignty, nor can we. We understand that to attain durable peace in our region, the Kahsmir dispute must be resolved by peaceful means in accordance with the UN resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

We have our challenges. Pakistan is going through difficult times. But we take heart from you, and from the people of your country. We hope that as for you, for Pakistan too, this is but a moment in history. It will pass and we too will look to new horizons of hope and prosperity.

Sri Lanka Pakistan Mithrathwayata Semada Digasiri (long life for the friendship of Sri Lanka and Pakistan.)