New vistas of economic cooperation | Daily News

New vistas of economic cooperation

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressing the Forum online
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressing the Forum online

Seeking new avenues of investments and economic cooperation, Sri Lanka ventured into new horizons and made an appeal to members of high-profile Boao Forum for Asia, which focuses on investment cooperation, science and technology and innovations. The Boao Forum for Asia (BFA), a brainchild of three eminent leaders – Fidel V. Ramos, former President of the Philippines, Bob Hawke, former Prime Minister of Australia, and Morihiro Hosokawa, former Prime Minister of Japan – is a nonprofit international organization which has become a platform for dialogue among leaders of national governments, industrial and business circles, and academic circles of countries in Asia and other continents about the important issues in Asia and the world.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa utilised his virtual address earlier this week to seek the support of the Governments of member countries of the Boao Forum to encourage more businesses from their countries and to consider Sri Lanka as a destination for their investments. “We particularly seek to attract investments in export-oriented industries that will have a beneficial impact on our economy. We seek the contributions of our international partners to aid this process. We do not seek to borrow, but to encourage investments. We have developed attractive policies for Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), including a favourable tax structure and other incentives,” the President said.

The Boao Forum, headquartered in Boao, in China’s Hainan Province has many Governments as well as leading international business corporates as its members. Hence, it is an ideal platform to seek high-profile investment partnerships. It was jointly initiated by 29 Member States. The founding purpose of the BFA is to promote economic integration in Asia. Its mission now is to pool positive energy for the development of Asia and the wider world.

President Rajapaksa, in his virtual address on Monday, expressed trust that the BFA Annual Conference 2021 will make a beneficial contribution at this globally challenging time (due to COVID-19) to countries within the region and between the region and other parts of the world.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his address that the Boao Forum exerted a significant influence on boosting development in Asia and beyond. “As an important member of the Asian family, China has kept deepening reform and opening-up while promoting regional cooperation. The principles of equality, mutual respect and mutual trust must be put front and centre in State-to-State relations. Bossing others around or meddling in others’ internal affairs would not get one any support,” he said.

“We must advocate peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom, which are common values of humanity, and encourage exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations to promote the progress of human civilization,” President Xi stressed in his online address.

International media stressed the importance of the high-profile Boao Forum and described it as ‘China’s version of the World Economic Forum in Davos’. Bloomberg said China is signaling it is open for business with the resumption of the Boao Forum for Asia, an opportunity for the Governments to make a renewed effort to lure foreign investors in a post-pandemic world.

Over 2,000 people attended the Boao 2021 session, making it the first major global meeting held offline this year. “China used this opportunity to improve the understanding of its position, that China is friendly, and it welcomes all investment into the country,” Chris Leung, chief China economist at DBS Group Holdings Ltd in Hong Kong told Bloomberg.

Leaders downplayed competition with the US and emphasized cooperation opportunities in areas from Climate Change to overcoming the pandemic, Bloomberg reported and pointed out that several US business leaders, including Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook, Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk, Blackstone Group Inc’s Stephen Schwarzman and Bridgewater Associates’ Ray Dalio participated in the conference. According to US trade specialists, the Boao Forum has given an opportunity for the Chinese Government to help mend ties with American investors amid heightened economic tensions between the two countries.

This year’s Boao Forum has played a special role in pushing for dialogue and cooperation among Asian countries, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a press briefing. The Forum was useful for potential investors to learn about new action plans from China to open up its economy and financial markets to attract foreign investment, given its promise to promote integration into the world under a “dual circulation” strategy. Officials in the past have announced major opening-up measures during the Boao conference, including the establishment and expansion of the “Stock Connect” programme that links mainland exchanges with Hong Kong.

President Rajapaksa congratulated the Boao Forum for completing two decades of excellent work to bring countries together. “I also take this opportunity to recognize the central role played by the People’s Republic of China in the Boao Forum for Asia. Through centuries of rich history, Sri Lanka and China share a strong strategic collaborative partnership based on mutual respect, trust, and cooperation. I appreciate the support rendered by President Xi Jinping and the Government of China to Sri Lanka, in vital areas of Sri Lanka’s well-being.”

Sri Lanka maintains a clear and vibrant foreign policy that seeks enhanced cooperation with all friendly nations, and in particular, its Asian neighbours, on equal and non-aligned terms. These principles are enshrined in our development policy framework, ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’, he added.

The Sri Lankan President said it was appropriate for the Forum to focus on this year’s theme ‘A World in Change: Join Hands to Strengthen Global Governance and Advance Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Cooperation’, to stress the importance of strengthening global governance and international cooperation. “It is essential that we strive towards a more equitable and respectful foundation for international relations. We know that developing countries, irrespective of their contribution to the world economy, have to abide by a myriad rules, regulations, and governance structures, and yet cannot access the global rules formulation process,” he said.

President Rajapaksa called for a fair balance between national policies and international shared policies, norms and rules. The sovereignty of independent states should in no way be undermined in the maintaining of this balance.

Sri Lanka is a peaceful, politically stable State that has taken multiple steps to enhance domestic governance to meet its goals under its development framework. Ten policy areas have been identified to deliver the four-fold outcome of a productive citizenry, a happy family, a disciplined society and a prosperous nation, the President said.

Sri Lanka told the Boao Forum that the Government has well thought-out plans to lift low-income families out of poverty, improve rural infrastructure, enrich the quality of education to meet future needs, and to enhance use of technology to improve efficacy throughout the nation. “We have ambitious plans to revive and strengthen our economy significantly in the coming years,” the President said.

The BFA annual report on the Asian economy stated that under the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, Asian economies have experienced a sharp drop in growth rates. However, Asian economic performance as a whole has been significantly better than the rest of the world. The report also shows that the economic integration of all Asian economies is accelerating. By February 2021, there had been 186 regional trade agreements in force inside and outside Asia, accounting for 54.9 percent of the total regional agreements around the world.

In particular, the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) in November 2020 has been injecting strong momentum into regional and global economic growth, which is expected to give renewed impetus to further accelerate the negotiation of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) in Asia.

The Global Times, quoting Sylvain Laurent, Executive Vice President of Dassault Systèmes, a French software corporation, said the Boao Forum has become an important bridge connecting China and the world, and an international exchange platform with global influence. “Through this year’s BFA, we expect to have a deeper understanding of the needs of enterprises in China and Asia during the intelligent transformation period," he said.

Erik Solheim, Convener of the BRI International Green Development Coalition Advisory Committee and former Executive Director of the UN Environment Program (UNEP), said he hopes China will introduce more of its experience regarding environmental technology to the world during the BFA. “China is the number one provider of environmental technology in the world. More than half of all solar energy comes from China. China is number one on electric vehicles, on building hydrogen energy. Therefore, China should use the Boao Forum to expose all these practices and ideas to the world,” Solheim said.

As the Form was meeting in Boao, Hainan, the Sri Lankan Embassy in Beijing hosted an investment and tourism event, in which Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona listed opportunities available in Sri Lanka, for trade, for potential investors and for educational and cultural exchanges. He highlighted the tourism potential in detail. Sri Lanka proposes to attract more investors from around the globe into the Colombo Port City, Hambantota Industrial Zone and the Eravur Fabric Park. Dr. Kohona invited Chinese investors to grab the openings available in Sri Lanka in these locations with attractive concessions, especially tax concessions.