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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2584

Sri Lanka Highly Successful on Issues of Bilateral Trade, International Affairs and Combating Terrorism: Dr. Palitha Kohona

Colombo, 25 April, (Asiantribune.com): Dr. Palitha T B Kohona, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, addressing the Committee of the Ceylon chamber of Commerce stated that based on treaties and other agreements Sri Lanka has with countries and agencies, successive Sri Lankan governments have taken proactive measures to maintain a dialogue with key international players with a view to ensuring continued economic connectivity and national security.Dr. Palitha Kohona: "Sri Lanka has developed complex chains of interconnectivity with a range of countries around the world and international organizations over the years.  Some of these linkages go back hundreds of years and even millennia."Dr. Palitha Kohona: "Sri Lanka has developed complex chains of interconnectivity with a range of countries around the world and international organizations over the years. Some of these linkages go back hundreds of years and even millennia."

For example, the President has made several visits to targeted countries over the last two years. These visits have covered countries such as India, Pakistan, China, Japan, Maldives, the UK, the US, Italy, the Vatican, Iran, Jordan and Kuwait. He has also attended the General Assembly of the UN, the ILO, the G11 Summit, the Baoa Forum and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit. Almost all his visits have enabled business delegations to exploit resulting opportunities.

All of these visits have been used by the President to consolidate our bilateral relations, to explain Sri Lanka’s position to the world, reassure the world of our policy approaches and to listen to the views of our interlocutors. Every possibility has also been used to encourage economic and trading contacts. The Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and other Ministers have also visited a range of countries. Visits have also been undertaken at senior officials’ level. Many foreign delegations at senior level have come to our fair isle in recent years.

Most recently from Thailand, the UK, the US, China, Maldives, India, Japan, etc. Regular visits to Sri Lanka have been undertaken by senior officials of the UN. These visits have given us the opportunity to highlight the positive developments that have taken place in Sri Lanka and also to endeavor to correct misconceptions. Importantly, in the face of a determined terrorist challenge and its sophisticated propaganda machine, we have sought to explain to the world measures undertaken by the government and its security forces to counter the brutal threat of terrorism that confronts us, the evolution of the political process designed to address the concerns of our minorities, particularly the Tamil minority, the APRC process, measures taken to consolidate and advance our democratic institutions in particular, efforts made to hold elections in the Eastern Province after a lapse of 14 years, and measures undertaken to address the economic and social needs of our people.

The achievements of our country in recent times, including our success in substantially attaining the Millennium Development Goals, our high ranking in the UN Human Development Index, in initiating vast development programmes, building extensive new infrastructure, including roads, three power plants and a harbour and in creating opportunities for industrial and services expansion. In addition these visits have contributed towards encouraging inward investments and foreign tourist arrivals, particularly from new sources. I am certain that there are areas where we could perform better. We will keep trying.

Despite the adverse publicity, Sri Lanka received a record level of FDI, US$ 751 million, in 2007 and the tourist arrivals though unsteady, recorded increases from the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia. A bond issue of US$ 500 resulted in an over subscription of USD 1.6 million.

Here is the full text of Dr. Kohona's address:

In the modern world, no country is an island. Although Sri Lanka is geographically an island, we are so interconnected with the outside that we are no longer an island in the wider sense of the word. In the past, islands were isolated but isolation is a thing of the past. We are very much dependent on the world. The world is a necessary part of us. Importantly, everything that we do gets noticed around the world, particularly in view of the easy connectivity through the electronic media. Furthermore, global currents and tendencies, contemporary thinking and attitudes and upheavals and changes elsewhere impact on us constantly. As one observer noted, the flutter of a butterfly at one corner of the globe could have a chain reaction resulting in a hurricane at the other end of the earth.

Sri Lanka has developed complex chains of interconnectivity with a range of countries around the world and international organizations over the years. Some of these linkages go back hundreds of years and even millennia. Many, originating in cultural, religious, trading and colonial factors, are today based on multilateral and bilateral treaties. Sri Lanka’s contemporary bilateral and multilateral treaty connections substantially underpin much of its global relations whether they are political, economic, commercial, etc. It could be said that very little of Sri Lanka’s external relations is undertaken today without relying on a complex web of multilateral and bilateral treaties. While these treaties establish or reflect global standards they also impose binding rights and obligations. Admittedly, we are part of a system that is not perfect, but it is a system that is gaining in strength. For example a letter posted in a roadside mail box in Colombo would reach its destination in any corner of the world without hindrance thanks to a well established framework of international rules relating to postal services. Similarly, international telephonic communications, sea transportation, air travel, banking, trade transactions, etc take place against the background of an intricate web of international norms underpinned by treaties. Modern commerce would not have reached today’s level of overriding importance in the absence of this treaty framework.

Sri Lanka, as a member of the international community, is dependent on this network of norms for its development and continuing prosperity and naturally others who are its members are also in a position to use this facility to exert influence on us. It is the window through which the world observes us. It is also the window for us to show our best face to the world. We need to be constantly conscious of its potential and its drawbacks. While we benefit from it, we also open ourselves to the world through it.

Let me pause over a few examples. Sri Lanka is a Member State of the WTO. The WTO Agreement requires Sri Lanka to work towards progressive trade liberalization. The dominant philosophy is that trade liberalization will bring wider benefits to our population. Cross-border trade is enhanced, through bilateral Free-Trade Agreements (FTAs). Sri Lanka concluded the first FTA with India in 1999, and a similar FTA was signed with Pakistan in August 2002.

The Agreement with India has resulted in the bilateral trade reaching approximately US$ 3 billion. Sri Lanka is now in the process of negotiating Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements with both these countries. These are in the nature of Economic Integration Agreements (EIAs) – a primary vehicle in liberalizing trade policies, the ultimate benefactors of which will be the people of Sri Lanka. The expansive nature of such Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements, aiming at the liberalization of trade in goods as well as services, is also consistent with the obligations undertaken by Sri Lanka under the main substantive Agreements of the WTO system such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS), which were the outcome of the Uruguay Round of Trade Negotiations held from 1986 to 1994. They entered into force as a package in 1995.

There are other important categories of international agreements which benefit Sri Lanka economically. Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) play a major role in this regard as they provide a degree of reassurance to foreign investors. Sri Lanka has entered into over 25 such investment treaties with other States. Most recently, the Government of Sri Lanka was able to finalize two further Agreements with the Czech Republic and Jordan.

Following a proactive approach to establishing economic and trading relations, the government in February 2007 concluded an Agreement on a Framework Programme for Financial Cooperation with Hungary, while an Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation with China was signed in February, 2007. Other developments concerning the subject of bilateral economic relations were the signing of an Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation with Israel (in April 2007) and a Trade Agreement with Jordan, in May 2007.

Sri Lanka has also entered into over 50 Bilateral Air Services Agreements. The conclusion of such agreements dates back to 1948, when Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then known) entered into an Air Services Agreement with India. This was immediately followed by agreements with countries such as Pakistan (1949), Thailand, Myanmar and Australia (1950) and the Netherlands (1953).

There has been much activity in the field of air services, especially during the recent past. For instance, in April 2007, Sri Lanka signed an Open Skies Air Services Agreement with Switzerland. Also, a Memorandum of Understanding which provides for liberalized air services between Sri Lanka and China was signed in March 2007.

These international agreements confer extensive benefits to Sri Lanka but they also contain obligations with which we need to comply. The benefits gained through our international network of treaties have helped Sri Lanka in great measure to reduce poverty and achieve economic development, since achieving independence in 1948. Outside the international legal framework but in line with UN goals Sri Lanka has shown considerable success in accomplishing the Millennium Development Goals, which aim at reducing poverty and improving the lives of people, as agreed upon at the Millennium Summit in 2000. We should be proud that the number living in poverty has dropped to 15.2%. While much more needs to be done, the progress Sri Lanka is making is noteworthy, especially at a time when the entire country is challenged by the brutal terrorism perpetrated by the LTTE.

It also needs to be remembered that the LTTE, consistent with the strategy of other terrorist groups who have sought to cripple the economies of target countries, has aimed its sights at the economy of this country. It is a strategy which appears to be succeeding to some extent, unfortunately due to the conscious or unwitting acquiescence of certain international players. The LTTE has attacked major economic targets in the country, and has threatened to continue such attacks. Tourism and inward investments have been a key focus for them. No great wisdom is needed to understand the terrorist motive. The LTTE’s prime motive has always been to see that Sri Lanka is debilitated economically, that its development is stultified, and the lives of its people made miserable. Terror is sown to reap a harvest of misery. What then is remarkable is that the Government of Sri Lanka has continued a process of ensuring economic development amidst these difficulties.

Against the background of broad relations based on treaties and other agreements, successive Sri Lankan governments have taken proactive measures to maintain a dialogue with key international players with a view to ensuring continued economic connectivity and national security. For example, the President has made several visits to targeted countries over the last two years. These visits have covered countries such as India, Pakistan, China, Japan, Maldives, the UK, the US, Italy, the Vatican, Iran, Jordan and Kuwait. He has also attended the General Assembly of the UN, the ILO, the G11 Summit, the Baoa Forum and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit. Almost all his visits have enabled business delegations to exploit resulting opportunities. All of these visits have been used by the President to consolidate our bilateral relations, to explain Sri Lanka’s position to the world, reassure the world of our policy approaches and to listen to the views of our interlocutors. Every possibility has also been used to encourage economic and trading contacts. The Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and other Ministers have also visited a range of countries. Visits have also been undertaken at senior officials’ level. Many foreign delegations at senior level have come to our fair isle in recent years. Most recently from Thailand, the UK, the US, China, Maldives, India, Japan, etc.

Regular visits to Sri Lanka have been undertaken by senior officials of the UN. These visits have given us the opportunity to highlight the positive developments that have taken place in Sri Lanka and also to endeavor to correct misconceptions. Importantly, in the face of a determined terrorist challenge and its sophisticated propaganda machine, we have sought to explain to the world measures undertaken by the government and its security forces to counter the brutal threat of terrorism that confronts us, the evolution of the political process designed to address the concerns of our minorities, particularly the Tamil minority, the APRC process, measures taken to consolidate and advance our democratic institutions in particular, efforts made to hold elections in the Eastern Province after a lapse of 14 years, and measures undertaken to address the economic and social needs of our people. The achievements of our country in recent times, including our success in substantially attaining the Millennium Development Goals, our high ranking in the UN Human Development Index, in initiating vast development programmes, building extensive new infrastructure, including roads, three power plants and a harbour and in creating opportunities for industrial and services expansion. In addition these visits have contributed towards encouraging inward investments and foreign tourist arrivals, particularly from new sources. I am certain that there are areas where we could perform better. We will keep trying.

Despite the adverse publicity, Sri Lanka received a record level of FDI, US$ 751 million, in 2007 and the tourist arrivals though unsteady, recorded increases from the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia. A bond issue of US$ 500 resulted in an over subscription of USD 1.6 million.

At this point, I would like to note that Sri Lanka has been an active member of the United Nations from its inception, since its admission to this august body in 1955 and in the process acquired a reputation as a reliable member of the international community. Sri Lanka has served as a President of the General Assembly and as a member of the Security Council in 1960 – 1961. Consistent with its historic role in the world, Sri Lanka currently chairs the Ad-hoc Committee on Terrorism, the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and the Ad-hoc Committee on the Indian Ocean. It is a Vice President of the Human Rights Council. Individual Sri Lankans have played leadership roles within the United Nations.

Jayantha Dhanapala served as the Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs and as the President, in 1995, of the Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Judge Christie Weeramantry was the Vice President of the International Court of Justice which is the lead judicial organisation of the United Nations. Radhika Coomaraswamy functions as the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict. Gamini Corea headed the UNCTAD and was a key figure behind the New International Economic Order concept which, at the time, was a stupendous intellectual contribution to the development debate. Shirley Amarasinghe served as the President of the Law of the Sea Conference and was even elected to serve in this position despite the absence of support from the Government. Today, Sri Lanka is a major troop contributor to the United Nations peace keeping operations, in particular, in Haiti.

Sri Lanka’s proactive engagement in the world stage has brought tangible benefits; in particular, the government’s active diplomacy has resulted in increased development assistance flows to this country. Japan has increased its bilateral assistance to Sri Lanka to US$ 618 million. China has emerged as a major development partner and is funding projects to the value of over one billion dollars. The contribution of Iran to our development efforts exceeds US $ 1.9 billion. India is also a major participant in our development projects with over US $ 500 million. The Republic of Korea contributes in the region of US$ 117 million. The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank are also major collaborators in our development efforts. Countries such as the US, Germany, France, Spain, Australia, the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary also important partners. The European Union is specifically significant with its contribution of over Euros 129 million. At a time when global development assistance levels have dropped, Sri Lanka seeking to provide a better economic future for its people, has succeeded in increasing assistance to itself.

Sri Lanka’s proactive management of its international relations has assisted in confronting the terrorist challenge in a substantive manner. Importantly, it is to be remembered that Sri Lanka is a party to 12 of the UN sponsored treaties in this area and is a party to the SAARC Convention on Terrorism. These treaties which command wide participation bind their parties to a global framework to counter different aspects of terrorism, including terrorist fund raising. It has concluded bilateral agreements with a range of countries including the US, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia on intelligence sharing and security cooperation matters.

Cooperation in intelligence sharing has resulted in successful naval operations by our Navy, the prosecution of LTTE operatives in other countries and the arrest of LTTE fundraisers, gunrunners and extortionists across the globe from Australia to Canada to the US. Furthermore, the constant efforts made by Sri Lanka has succeeded in having the LTTE proscribed in the US , Canada, 27 countries of the European Union, India, etc. Some of these countries, in particular the US, Canada, the UK, France and Australia, have commenced judicial action against the LTTE and its key operatives in those countries. It is important to note that terrorism is a scourge that has been condemned as an unacceptable means of political expression by the international community and it is important that Sri Lanka is firmly allied with the countries which take this approach.

In this context, I would also like to address the question of Sri Lanka’s economic performance. Trade is an important element in our prosperity. Historically Sri Lanka benefited enormously from international trade and there was a time when this country was a major emporium in East-West trade relations. In more recent times, traders from afar came to Sri Lanka looking for valuable commodities such as cinnamon and other spices. Things are not too different today and it is very important for us to maintain our trade relations unaffected by extraneous factors. As you know, Sri Lanka’s per capita income has now surpassed to US$ 1617 a year.

Our growth rate was 6.8% in 2007. Our industrial exports increased by over 8% during the same time while agricultural exports increased by about 6%. Unemployment is at a historic low although inflation is a problem. It is hoped that global conditions would improve and help us to deal with this problem better in the future. The European Union has become Sri Lanka’s major trading partner. Bilateral trade exceeds US$ 3 billion affecting over 100,000 jobs. Against this background it is vitally important for us to continue to enjoy the GSP + concession in the future.

The question has been asked whether Sri Lanka could satisfy the conditions related to the extension of the GSP +facility when it comes up for review this year. We need to continue our efforts to convince our partners that we will be able to meet the conditions underlying the granting of the GSP + concession. I note that Sri Lanka is a party to the key conventions that underpin the GSP + facility in the areas of human rights, the environment, labour and good governance. Sri Lanka has performed exceptionally well in the areas of the environment and labour enabling us to market our clothing under the slogan “Garments without guilt”. Many comments have been made concerning Sri Lanka’s compliance with the commitments undertaken under the different human rights conventions, in particular the ICCPR. I note that the Supreme Court has held that the ICCPR is justiciable under the law of Sri Lanka and the convention has been adequately given effect under our law. While the wider struggle against the brutal terrorist challenge continues, the government has taken a range of measures to ensure that global standards are met within the country. The One-Judge Commission on Disappearances (the Tillakaratna Commission) was appointed to investigate alleged disappearances.

An Independent Commission of Inquiry is investigating a number of high profile incidents. It commenced public hearings in early March. Until the end of last month, its inquiries were observed by a group of International Independent Group of Eminent Persons. It is true that the IIGEP has decided to conclude its work and has also made certain comments. Both the Commission and the Attorney General’s Department have responded to these comments. Sri Lanka’s military has been provided extensive human rights training by the ICRC. Sri Lanka has also continuously interacted with high level UN officials responsible for different aspects of human rights and has not hesitated to invite them to Sri Lanka.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in a globalised world it is not unexpected that everything that we do and do not get highlighted, sometimes disproportionately. Unfortunately, given the sophistication of the propaganda machine of the LTTE, many real and perceived actions in our performance get flashed across the world in real-time. Some of this material gets picked up by NGOs and even governments. It is for us to deal with these barrages of propaganda as effectively as possible. This is our challenge.

- Asian Tribune -

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