Even as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe begins his three-day visit to India on Monday, the Sri Lankan government on Sunday made it clear that the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) would not be signed during the visit.
Malik Samarawickrama, United National Party chairman and Minister for International Trade, said the agreement would not come up for discussion even though issues concerning bilateral cooperation would be deliberated.
Harsha De Silva, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, said the talks would, however, be centred on improving trade and investment.
The CEPA had been talked about for long and there were expectations in 2012 that the pact would be signed soon. In mid-2013, the then Economic Development Minister, Basil Rajapaksa, went on record, stating that the agreement was no longer required for his country as India and Sri Lanka, according to him, “moved on.”
However, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to Colombo six months ago, renewed the debate on the CEPA.
Addressing a gathering of Sri Lanka’s business community, Mr Modi had said: “We should ensure that Sri Lanka does not fall behind in the changing and competitive world. That is why India and Sri Lanka should move boldly to conclude a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.”
‘Optimising ties’The Sri Lankan Deputy Minister pointed out that India and Sri Lanka have been friends for long and “both of us will continue to be friends.”
He said the focus of the visit would be more on optimising the ties between the two countries. Four memoranda of understanding (MoUs) pertaining to a SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] satellite; the launch of Emergency Ambulance Health Protection Service on the lines of the Indian model of “108 Emergency Response Services;” provision of medical equipment to 200-bedded hospital in Vavuniya and the execution of development projects concerning local bodies and non-governmental organisations, would be inked.
Mr. Silva declined to comment on whether Mr. Wickremesinghe was expected to take up with Mr. Modi the possible coordinated approach during the session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, beginning Monday, to discuss a host of issues, including a probe into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka.
On the eve of his departure, the Prime Minister ordered the release of 16 fishermen from Tamil Nadu as a gesture of goodwill. The move was also in response to a representation from an association of fishermen of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu.