|Saturday, 01 March 2003|
Manjula Fernando reporting from New Delhi
With the emergence of peace after nearly two decades of war, Sri Lanka is building a new, high growth economy, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told the India Today conclave in New Delhi yesterday.
"We are embracing the commercial opportunities offered by the more open world economy, and by the reconstruction and rehabilitation of our economy. Despite the fact that the ceasefire has only reached its first anniversary, the men and women of Sri Lanka are getting back to work, re-building their lives and re-building the country," Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said, delivering the keynote address of the conclave at Taj Palace Hotel.
Referring to the close links between the two countries, the Prime Minister said the clearest indication was the planned erection of the land bridge between Rameshwaran and Talaimannar.
"When this project is completed, trade between Sri Lanka and South India will be much more cost effective. The road link will create new opportunities for businesses on both sides of the straits as the road extends up to Bangalore, Chennai and ultimately, Mumbai. A win win situation for both countries. The development of such a project alone will create many new jobs and the potential business spin offs for both are enormous," the Premier said.
He observed that India and Sri Lanka already have a free trade agreement in place. "Last year Prime Minister Vajpayee and I agreed to extend and deepen this FTA. Our countries are now beginning to discuss an agreement for Economic Cooperation that will broaden the range of goods traded freely. It will also liberalise the trade in services, and reduce barriers to investment."
He said Sri Lanka was looking to the emergence of an integrated sub-regional economy encompassing Sri Lanka and South India. "We cannot help but see Sri Lanka's strategic location; close to India and at the centre of the Indian Ocean. This island was once an important trading hub; we aim to play this role again. Our goals include expanding and developing our ports - our air links, our financial and trade facilitation services."
"For us, from our strategic geographical position, we can offer an easy route into India for traders sailing the far southern seas, who currently by pass our region. Equally, businesses in South India will have more cost effective access to world markets through sea transport through the Ports of Colombo and Trincomalee. The benefits will be enormous to southern India in particular. For Sri Lanka, it will provide additional jobs, business opportunities and a chance to work with an increasingly significant economy. The South Indian economy and the Sri Lanka economy are complementary to one another," he added.
The Premier envisaged a dynamic South India-Sri Lanka sub-regional centre playing a major role in the economic prosperity of South East Asia.
He said the country would have disintegrated had his government not entered into a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE.
"If we hadn't taken that step, the country would have disintegrated," Wickremesinghe told the gathering. "The peace is people driven. Whoever breaches it will lose people's support," he said.
Produced by Lake House