relations now at the highest point ever – President
“Indo-Lanka relations are now at the highest point ever,” President Chandrika Kumaratunga said briefing the Sri Lankan media personnel in Delhi at the end of the first day of her 5- day working visit.
She said the two countries were exploring the avenues of expanding the present Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to services and other investments and were working on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
President Kumaratunga who arrived in the Indian capital early Thursday, held detailed discussions with Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, Foreign Minister Natwar Singh and Chairperson of the ruling Congress led United Progressive Alliance Shrimathi Sonia Gandhi on issues of mutual concern and ways and means of further strengthening bilateral relations.
India had doubled its exports to Sri Lanka during the last five years under the current FTA. “The existing disparity between the numbers of items that can be traded is vast, and it was felt Sri Lanka could multiply its exports 4 – 5 times in the future, even though India still enjoys a vast production base,” President Kumaratunga said.
Kumaratunga was of the view that If all SAARC member nations could establish similar bilateral FTAs, it will help strengthen the overall economic, political and cultural links as envisaged by SAFTA.
“The South Asian region is yet not able to make SAFTA a success, when compared to other regional economic groupings such as ASEAN and the EU,” she said.
In response to Sri Lanka’s proposal for rural sector development, India has pledged help in establishing state-of-the-art vocational training centers to help ease unemployment among Sri Lankan youth. These training facilities may be located in Jaffna, the Hill country and in the Western Province.
India has also pledged more technical and financial assistance, such as USD 250 million to renovate and modernize highways. One such highway will be ‘Rajiv Gandhi Friendship Amity Highway’ from Dambulla to Trincomalee. It will also be linked to the historic Anuradhapura city in the North Central Sri Lanka. Development of many rural roads throughout the island will also be funded by the Government of India.
India has already extended a 150 Million USD line of credit for the import petroleum products.
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