Saturday, January 20, 2018 | ePaper

Strengthening ties with Sri Lanka for mutual gains

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BANGLADESH and Sri Lanka agreed to enter into a free trade regime by this year.The two countries reached the decision during official talks between Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka yesterday.
The Foreign Secretary said both countries decided to complete all negotiations and studies in this regard as soon as possible to make way for the FTA, which will be the first such agreement of Bangladesh with any country.The Foreign Secretary said the meeting, held in a very cordial atmosphere, mainly focused on trade, investment and agriculture, as per media reports.
He said out of 14 instruments signed between the two countries seven are on trade and investment and agriculture. Sri Lanka is keen to learn from the success of Bangladesh in agricultural sector to bring revolution in seed production. He said the instruments and a joint statement of the two countries has given a framework to the relation of the two countries. The joint statement has reflected the vision of the two countries to strengthen trade relation as well as political relation, he said.
At the same time, the Foreign Secretary said, the two countries have found a strong possibility of collaboration in higher education as a large number of Sri Lankan students are studying in Bangladesh particularly in the area of medicine. The Foreign Secretary said the Sri Lankan President termed this visit a historic saying it would embark a new journey in the bilateral relations of the two countries. The agreement of visa waiver for the diplomatic and official passport holders is a big achievement of the high level visit, as per the Foreign Secretary's statement.
While the Free Trade Agreement is historic one must look into the overall context--total trade flows between the two friendly nations was only USD 148 million in 2016 - barely 1/560th of our total trade flows. But the potential for it to improve rapidly can only improve if the FTA is negotiated to enhance both our nations advantages in making products.
Nonetheless it is a start - our mutual trade has increased over three-fold in only six years and the potential for it to increase even further is a good sign. However, we must also look into the high presence of Sri Lankan nationals in our RMG industries and reduce the scope for illegal employment. Sri Lanka must promise to reduce such migration in order to give greater scope to our neighbours. Instead we could look into providing proper training for our unskilled workers to give them greater scope to work here.
It is a good thing that we are building up trust with our neighbours - Bangladesh recently gave Myanmar USD 5 lakh to make shelters for the Rohingya. Such peace building initiatives with our friendly neighbours can go a long way to balance the hegemony of our bigger neighbours. In the world of realpolitik, it is every nation for themselves. It is time that we considered our nations interests first.

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