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Moving towards closer integration

Friday 24 June 2005

The sixth session of the Sri Lanka-India Joint Commission, held in Colombo recently, has taken the bilateral relationship to an enhanced level - well on the way to closer integration of the two countries and economies. Thanks to the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), bilateral trade has steadily climbed to $1.8 billion and it is heartening that the two neighbours are moving towards a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) expected to be clinched before the end of the year. Foreign Ministers Natwar Singh and Lakshman Kadirgamar are clear that both sides will continue the process of integration by addressing outstanding implementation issues so that the full potential of the FTA can be realised and CEPA can be launched smoothly. In this context, the utilisation of an Indian line of credit for Sri Lanka to import passenger buses and the decision to strengthen cooperation in the power sector are especially meaningful. The move to get the National Thermal Power Corporation to submit a detailed proposal to set up a coal or LNG power plant in Sri Lanka forms part of this strategy.

Viewed in that context, the two memoranda of understanding signed in Colombo - on small development projects and on an educational exchange programme - and the establishment of a joint working group on fisheries mark concrete steps to broaden cooperation between the neighbours. With focus, Indian help and expertise in small development projects can greatly benefit Sri Lanka. Similarly, a scarcity of opportunities in several areas of higher and professional education has been a major problem confronting Sri Lankan youth. While those who can afford to go abroad do so, many talented young men and women languish for want of suitable opportunities. Strengthening the home base in higher learning will be a boon for the island nation. Aside from handling constructively the problem of fishermen from Tamil Nadu straying into Sri Lankan waters and facing the consequences, the two countries can think of a joint approach to tapping the marine wealth, just as they should do in marketing tea and tourism.

People-to-people contact is growing rapidly, as evidenced by the phenomenal growth in the aviation sector. Over 100 flights are operated between the two countries every week and Sri Lanka wants to fly to more Indian cities. A new feature is the operation of private airlines. Looking at the big picture, the best thing that has happened to India-Sri Lanka friendship and cooperation is the multipartisan endorsement it has won in both countries. Among the big parties, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the United National Party, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party seem more or less equally committed to maintaining and strengthening bilateral ties. This is what makes the Indo-Sri Lanka relationship a fine model of bilateral amity and cooperation in South Asia.

See online : The Hindu

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