By: Staff Writer
Colombo (LNW): Sri Lanka is pushing Chinese, Indian and Singaporean authorities to expedite the negotiations process for the Free Trade Agreements (FTA) to be signed in 2023 or early 2024 while there are many issues to be resolved in the agreements, official sources of the International Trade Office revealed.
The Government is adopting an ambitious economic reforms program to revitalize the domestic economy, the source said.
Key elements of this program are to join the regional and global supply chains and re-engagement with the global economy to enhance exports and export-oriented foreign direct investment.
In this context, the Government is currently engaged in an effort to establish comprehensive free trade agreements targeting large and emerging economies while further penetrating into the main export markets of USA and Europe.
Towards this end, Sri Lanka has already resumed negotiations with Thailand on the proposed Sri Lanka-Thailand Free Trade Agreement (STFTA) and the authorities are in the process of concluding the fourth round of negotiations today (29) after three days of negotiations in Colombo. The aim is to sign the agreement in early 2024.
In a bid to access the vast Chinese market for Sri Lankan products, especially for the potential exports to China, negotiations of China – Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (CSFTA) commenced several years back and six rounds of negotiations were concluded.
With the intention to resume the talks soon, both countries have shared diplomatic notes and the officials are currently engaged in discussions on arranging the seventh round of negotiations in late April, after the Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations.
A Cabinet nod has also been given to resume negotiations of PTA with Bangladesh, which is another emerging economy of the SAARC region. Bangladesh is predicted to upgrade to the status of a lower middle-income country by 2026 with about 37 million of middle-income earners, which provides a sizeable market.
In the context of other SAARC member countries, Sri Lanka has signed the Pakistan Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (PSFTA) in 2002, while the India Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISLFTA) was signed in 1998. The former entered into force in 2005 while the latter entered into force in 2000.
Further, eleven rounds of negotiations were concluded with India on the proposed Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with the intention to advance the existing FTA to a comprehensive trade and investment cooperation framework. It is expected to resume negotiations of ETCA in the first few months of 2023.
Having signed in 2018 the Singapore Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (SLSFTA), which is the first comprehensive agreement for Sri Lanka, entered into force in May 2018 and having commenced FTA negotiations with Thailand, as two prominent South East Asian countries, the Government is taking initial steps for formal submission of Sri Lanka’s intention to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which consists a 30% of the world’s GDP, trade and population.
Regular meetings are held before and after every negotiation round with the industry associations, trade chambers and other stakeholders.