Sri Lanka has a long historical relationship with Africa beginning with the arrival of Arab traders in the early 11th century and the island nation hopes to enhance its existing economic and trade relations with the African nations further through business exchanges, Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs Karunaratne Amunugama said.
Delivering a keynote address at an event to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU)/African Union (AU) in Colombo recently, the Secretary said trade between Sri Lanka and Africa has a long distinguished history.
Sri Lanka's foreign policy platform is being built mainly through the country's historical and cultural affinities with the rest of the world and Sri Lanka has found common grounds to develop economic partnerships with Africa.
He said the business chambers in the country are encouraged to promote close interaction with similar institutions in the African region and Sri Lanka also explores the possibilities of enhancing bilateral trade and economic cooperation, diversifying its products and encouraging public private partnership.
In recent years, Sri Lanka's economic partnership with the African countries has developed extending beyond trade and investment to knowledge sharing and skill development, technology transfer etc. Amunugama noted.
He said at present the government as well as the private sector efforts is aimed for a comprehensive engagement to market together as partners in progress
The official expressed the view that Sri Lanka could cooperate with Africa in many spheres and create a new platform for South-South Dialogue framed as a partnership between equal partners, which could enhance their developmental aspects.
"We were able to re-energize our relations in regional and multilateral fora such as the Commonwealth, G-15, IOR-ARC etc. where a large number of African states actively take part," Amunugama said adding that Sri Lanka looks forward to be an observer in the African Union (AU) and the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) where almost half (25) of 56 membership are from Africa.
"Sri Lanka also wishes to be member at the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) where 4 of the 5 member States are from Africa," he said.
Explaining the measures taken by the present government to enhance the relations between the island nation and African countries, the official said Sri Lanka's cabinet granted approval to establish diplomatic relations with 15 African states - Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Malawi, Mauritania, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Togo- in 2012.
Sri Lanka has formal diplomatic relations with 37 African Countries and awaits concurrence of another 13 states. Sri Lanka's present diplomatic missions in Africa are concurrently accredited to 27 African nations.
Amunugama pointed out that as far as the Trade and Economic aspects of the relations are concerned, Sri Lanka and Africa have a lot in common in natural resources and demography. "These commonalities provide the natural synergy for building partnerships," he noted.
The official, with a view to promoting the people-to-people contacts further, suggested the representatives at the forum to form an Africa- Sri Lanka Friendship Association.
He also offered the African nations to share Sri Lanka's experience in combating terrorism.
"We are happy to assist Africa in this regard and encourage the partnership for the mutual benefit of our nations," Amunugama said.