We cannot afford to stand by and watch

mangala SForeign Minister Mangala Samaraweera speaking on “Indo-Lanka Relations In The 21st Century: A Tryst With Opportunity” at the Sri Lanka-India Society said, as India marches on to become a super-power of the 21st Century, Sri Lanka too has embarked on a Tryst with Opportunity that will undoubtedly be a catalyst for Sri Lanka’s resurgence and development.

The force of destiny has been such that from the most ancient of times, Sri Lanka’s fate has been intertwined with her sister India’s. Our island home, which sits at the centre of the Indian Ocean, has been nourished and fed from the haziest moments of history not from South East Asia, West Asia or Africa but from her closest neighbour India. Even the royal families of Sri Lanka were no exceptio. For as you know, many kings’ consorts were Indian princesses.

Whenever a bridge over the Palk Straits to connect our two nations is proposed, they get into a paranoid frenzy that all of India is waiting drive over that bridge and make Sri Lanka their home, when trade agreements are discussed they see swarms of Indian doctors and barbers coming across to flood the Sri Lankan market. Now they claim that their IT specialists are all waiting to come and take the jobs of Sri Lankan engineers. When India flourished so did Lanka, when India was oppressed so was Lanka, when freedom dawned in India, it dawned Lanka too. So similarly, when India prospers, so will Lanka.

India, growing at over seven percent a year, is set to return to her historical place in the top three global economies by 2030. In the next 25 years the middle class is forecast to go from the 10 percent of India’s 1.6 billion strong population it is today, to 90 percent.

Now as India is forging ahead to reclaim her rightful place as a super-power, if Sri Lanka too is to benefit from the Indian Century we must see India not as a threat, but as a great opportunity to prosper and develop. Sri Lanka must realize that like Canada, Hong Kong or Vietnam, we are blessed with a historic opportunity by way of our location right next to one of the world’s largest and fastest growing economies – an economy that is thirty times our size. India’s surging economic growth has created massive FDI and export opportunities. As annual investment by Indian companies abroad has rocketed from 6 million US dollars in 1990 to 9.8 billion US dollars in 2014, the total stock of Indian FDI in Sri Lanka has also grown by leaps and bounds – going from just over 100 million US dollars in the year 2000 to over 1.5 billion US dollars in 2014.

India is not only a direct source of FDI, with firms like IOC, the Taj Group, Ashok Leyland, making major investments in Sri Lanka; being a Gateway to India is one of the few ways in which we can secure FDI and ensure economic development. It is the prospect of entering the Indian market that leads to many global investors considering Sri Lanka as an investment destination.  Our financial services, IT, logistics and manufacturing sectors all have tremendous potential because they are geographically very well placed to tap the Indian market.

Securing investment directly from India and from other countries as a result of our position as a Gateway to India and the sub-continent, is not the only way Sri Lanka’s business and citizens can benefit from the gigantic Indian market. Sri Lankan firms are also increasingly making use of investment opportunities in India. A few examples include, Brandix India Apparel City, a thousand-acre apparel zone; MAS’ multiple factories and fabric parks; Aitken Spence’s 143 roomed hotel in Chennai.

Moving on to trade, Sri Lankan consumer firms are just beginning to penetrate the massive Indian market. Sri Lanka’s exports to India have increased by almost 10 times since the Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement came into effect. Sri Lankan consumer brands like Amante, Avirate, Munchee and Damro are rapidly expanding and on the industrial side Colombo Dockyard has orders worth over 250 million dollars to build ships for Indian companies. As a result of such successes, the ratio of imports to exports between India and Sri Lanka declined from 10:1 to 6:1 within ten years of signing the agreement.

With the proposed Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement we will build on this Free Trade Agreement to put in place a rules based framework for services trade, enabling the services sector, which accounts for 60 percent of our economy, to benefit from the same market access and dynamism other sectors enjoy under the Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement.

All our current superstitions and prejudices about India must not colour our thinking. Most of all Sri Lanka must get rid of its minority complex which seems to have been acquired by seeing India as a threatening and hostile neighbour, inimical to the interests of our country.

India in turn must be vigilant to the needs, hopes and aspirations of ordinary Sri Lankans, so that recurring issues, like the bottom trawling crisis in the North of Sri Lanka, which not only affects the livelihoods of thousands of poor families and results in dangerous environmental damage to the rich seafloor of the Palk Straits, are resolved and do not give cause to anti-Indian feeling.

We cannot afford to stand by and watch as what could be the Indian Century passes us by. We must leverage our proximity to the Indian economy, one of our greatest blessings, and become the Gateway to India and the sub-continent. Then as India prosperous, we will prosper even more.The time has come to transform that Tryst into reality.

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