“I will maintain the dignity of my country in foreign relations and will initiate a new programme to forge good relations with countries”, stated President Mahinda Rajapaksa in ‘Mahinda Chintana- The Vision Ahead’ , his manifesto to develop the country.
In keeping with this pledge, the President follows a pragmatic foreign policy with a commitment to the maintenance of friendly and cordial relations with all countries.
As the first Sri Lankan head of state to visit Belarus since its independence in 1991, President Rajapaksa Sunday arrived at the Minsk National Airport commencing his three-day official visit to the East European nation. The President was received at the Airport by Mr. Vladimir Makei, the Belarus Minister of Foreign Affairs.
A landlocked country of approximately 207,000 square kilometers, Belarus shares borders with Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. The majority of the nearly 10 million population lives in urban areas while the capital city of Minsk is home to about a fifth of the nation’s population.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Belarus has laid a solid foundation to further enhance cooperation in all sectors between the two countries. The president’s three-day official visit to Belarus, have yielded significant benefits for Sri Lanka.
In Belarus, President Rajapaksa held a very productive discussion with the President of Belarus Mr. Alexander Lukashenko where Sri Lanka and Belarus agreed to enhance cooperation in a number of sectors, including economic, trade, investment, education and technology.
Upon arrival at the residence for the bilateral discussions, President Rajapaksa was welcomed with a guard-of-honor, following which the two leaders engaged in a one-on-one discussion. During this discussion, President Rajapaksa thanked President Lukashenko for understanding and being aware of the real situation in Sri Lanka.
President Rajapaksa also explained that after defeating terrorism, Sri Lanka has been able to achieve rapid economic progress. The growth rate of the country during the past few years has been in the range of seven to eight percent, President Rajapaksa explained, while the growth rate of former conflict-affected regions have been as high as 22 percent.
Speaking of the social and economic development in Belarus, President Rajapaksa praised what the East European nation has been able to achieve during the past few years and indicated that the strong friendship that the two countries have maintained should be maintained and further enhanced.
President Rajapaksa briefed President Lukashenko of the arrangements being undertaken in preparation of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013 in November and requested Belarus to send a business delegation to the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) that will take place on the sidelines of CHOGM.
Before conclusion of the bilateral discussion, President Rajapaksa extended an invitation to President Lukashenko to visit Sri Lanka, which he accepted.
The two countries have also signed seven agreements and memorandums of understanding on 26th to strengthen bilateral relations between the two states and promote development activities in Sri Lanka through Belarus assistance.
The following agreements were signed:
• Trade and economic cooperation
• Visa exemption for holders of diplomatic and official passports
• Avoidance of double taxation and prevention of fiscal evasion
• Technical cooperation in military affairs
• MOU on mutual cooperation between the Ministries of Justice of both countries
• Treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters
Following his meeting with the President of Belarus, bilateral discussions held between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Belarus Prime Minister Prof. Mikhail Myasnikovich on Aug. 26 afternoon in Belarus capital city of Minsk. During the bilateral discussions Sri Lanka and Belarus have identified several potential areas for joint ventures.
Some of the areas discussed for potential joint ventures included manufacturing of tractors, trucks, busses, and agricultural and military equipment as well as other items such as dairy products, shoes and baby food.
“The Sri Lankan President’s Belarus tour marks a new era of relations between the two countries,” said Prime Minister Myasnikovich as he began the bilateral discussions. “The two countries already share good relations. It can be further improved. Both countries have the right conditions to make this possible,” he further said.
President Rajapaksa responded by saying that Sri Lanka is also determined to work towards strengthening relations with Belarus.
Prime Minister Myasnikovich suggested several other areas for potential cooperation such as monetary management, technology, power and energy, education and culture. He also pointed out that both countries could benefit from joint ventures where Sri Lankan-made goods can be sold not only in the Belarus market but also in other markets in the region.
The President also briefed the Prime Minister of the range of attractive incentives and facilities that are now available in Sri Lanka for foreign direct investment. President Rajapaksa also informed Prime Minister Myasnikovich of the new port and airport facilities available in Hambantota in the southern part of the country while noting that Sri Lanka plans to set up a free trade zone in that area as well.
President Rajapaksa said investors from Belarus can take advantage of these facilities to start projects in Sri Lanka. He suggested a few possible areas: Assembly of buses, trucks and equipment for security forces, medicinal drug production and education. President Rajapaksa said investors will have the advantages of Sri Lanka’s high literacy rate and its highly skilled workforce.
While briefing Prime Minister Myasnikovich of Sri Lanka’s sports sector, President Rajapaksa requested for assistance from Belarus to organize training in the fields of athletics and football.
In order to enhance people-to-people interactions, President Rajapaksa stressed the importance of establishing direct flights between the two countries. Speaking about the Bolshoi Ballet Theatre that he was able to visit in Minsk, President Rajapaksa requested for assistance from Belarus to construct a similar structure in Sri Lanka. The President expressed his confidence that the Belarus government would give high priority to successfully implement the agreements signed between the two countries.
Prime Minister Myasnikovich indicated that there are currently about 200 Sri Lankan students pursuing higher education in Belarus, and he expressed his government’s willingness to provide up to 250 university scholarships for Sri Lankan students.
Following the bilateral discussions with Prime Minister Myasnikovich, President Rajapaksa attended the launch of the Sri Lanka – Belarus Business Forum at the National Library in Minsk. The forum, which was attended by Sri Lankan and Belarus business delegations, had been organized to identify potential areas for collaboration in order to further develop economic and trade cooperation.
The business forum that was organized in parallel with President Rajapaksa’s visit provided a good platform to fulfill the aspirations of both countries.
Sri Lanka and Belarus also agreed to establish an inter-parliamentary association to ensure cooperation between the Parliaments of the two countries. Such an agreement was reached with several objectives: To enhance mutual understanding in political, economic and social sectors; to ensure mutual cooperation in international fora; and to further cooperation in economic, trade and business sectors.
These agreements were reached when President Mahinda Rajapaksa met with the Chairman of the House of Representatives of the Belarus National Assembly Mr. Vladmir Andreichenko and the Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus Mr. Anatoly Rusetski at the State House in Belarus.
During the discussions, President Rajapaksa stressed the importance of maintaining strong parliamentary relations between the two countries in ensuring strong bilateral ties. President Rajapaksa also spoke about the inter-parliamentary associations that Sri Lanka has already established with the participation of all political parties represented in Parliament.
Both President Rajapaksa and Mr. Andreichenko emphasized the need to immediately work towards enhancing cooperation in all sectors as was agreed upon during the bilateral talks between President Rajapaksa and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.
During the morning, President Rajapaksa also made a floral tribute at a war memorial in Belarus, built to honor soldiers who sacrificed their lives during World War II.
On this third and final day of his visit, President Rajapaksa also attended the launch of a tourism forum at the Crown Plaza Hotel, organized to promote tourism between the two countries. Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Mr. Anatoly Tozik and the Cultural Minister Mr. Boris Svetlov were also present at the occasion.
The President and the Sri Lankan delegation also visited a heavy vehicle and tractor manufacturing plant.
Concluding a very successful three-day state visit to the Republic of Belarus, President Mahinda Rajapaksa returned to the island this (28) morning.
President Rajapaksa’s visit to Belarus will bring far reaching positive consequences to our economy in years to come.