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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2610

Historic Lanka-Belarus trade talks begin in Colombo

Colombo, 10 July, (Asiantribune.com):

The first ever Sri Lanka-Belarus official trade talks commenced in Colombo on 09 July amidst avowed assertions from both sides towards forging sustainable trade links while making inroads to the huge ‘New Asian; and upcoming Eurasian Union markets. And the first Colombo talks have now paved the way for a prospective future visit of (HE) President of Belarus to Sri Lanka.

“I am pleased to note that Belarus is Sri Lanka’s first gateway to the promising EEU new single market. Our Free Trade Agreements with Pakistan and India have opened gateways to a South Asian market of 1.2 billion. Equally important is Sri Lanka’s forthcoming FTA with China. Therefore we invite you to partner with Sri Lanka and take advantage of the new Asian opportunity” said an upbeat Rishad Bathiudeen (Minister of Industry and Commerce of Sri Lanka) on 09 July in Colombo.

Minister Bathiudeen was addressing the opening session of the first Sri Lanka-Belarus Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation that commenced at Taj Hotel, Colombo on 09 July. The two day session will conclude on 10 July, and will see the participation of (H.E) Valentin B. Rybakov (Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus) sitting in sessions throughout. For this historic trade meet, Deputy Minister Rybakov arrived in Sri Lanka on 08 July leading a 20 member plus Belarus delegation. For technical sessions, Sri Lanka’s side is led by Anura Siriwardena (Secretary, Ministry of Industry and Commerce) while Belarus’ team is led by Deputy Minister Rybakov.

Deputy Minister Rybakov announced: “This session of the JE commission is a result of HE Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Belarus in 2013. We will try to arrange a return visit to Sri Lanka by our head of state. The agreements that can be reached by this two day session will help us in formulating this return visit by our Head of State.”

Representing Sri Lanka at the opening session of 09 July were Lakshman Wasanthsa Perera (Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce), Anura Siriwardena (Secretary, Ministry of Industry and Commerce), R D S Kumararatne (Director General of Department of Commerce), Bandula Egodage (chairman/CEO, EDB), top officials from EDB and Department of Commerce, 28 other Lankan representatives from Ministries of External Affairs, Plantation, Fisheries, Agriculture, Coconut Development, Economic Development (including BoI and Tourist Board) and the Tea Board. Also present were Lankan private sector reps including reps from business Chambers.

• ‘This is opening for Belarus President’s future visit to Lanka’-Belarus’ Rybakov
‘Access rising SA, China markets from Lanka’-Rishad
World’s largest agro machinery maker in visiting team
• ‘Lanka a very important partner for us in SA’-Belarus’ Rybakov
• Leading Lankan Ministries & BoI in 28 member Lankan team
• ‘EEU & Belarus promising virgin markets for Lanka’-Rishad
• Belarus’ pharma, industrial vehicles, & universitiesat play in Colombo
• Ready to helpon SL food security, agro & industries--Belarus’ Rybakov

Along with visiting Deputy Minister (HE) Rybakov, also in the Belarus delegation were (HE) Vitaly Prima (Delhi based Belarus Ambassador for Sri Lanka), Ms Maya Rusetkaya (Belarus Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and reps from Minsk Tractor Works (World’s largest agro machinery maker already supplying three million tractors to 100 countries), RUE Belmedpreparaty (pharma sector pioneer and Belarus’ largest manufacturer of generics), Promagroleasing (Belarus’ leading lease and finance corporation, with market penetration in South Africa and South America), Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ-manufacturer of more than 500 models of vehicles including trucks, fifth wheelers and industrial vehicles- slated to receive exclusive rights to be the sole importer of majority of vehicles to Belarus), Caravan (tea and coffee retailer-Aroma and Shokomiska brands), Minsk Department of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Chamber with a membership of more than 780 medium and large scale businesses of Minsk Region), Belarusian National Technical University (education sector), and Vitebsk State Medical University (education sector).

“Sri Lanka and Belarus have been enjoying warm and cordial relations over the years based on mutual respect and shared values and I have no doubts that today’s event would bring the ongoing cooperation efforts to a new level” said Minister Barthiudeen addressing the session.
Minister added: “The visit of our committed President Mahinda Rajapakshe to Belarus in August 2013 is a clear sign of Sri Lanka’s desire to build upon the already existing relations so that closer ties are forged. I am given to understand that Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) which is scheduled to come into effect on 1 January 2015. From January 2015, it is expected that EEU will create a single economic market of 171 million people. I am pleased to note therefore that Belarus is also Sri Lanka’s first gateway to the promising new single market. As your Excellency is aware, Sri Lanka is middle income emerging market economy. The Government’s objective is to make Sri Lanka a global hub. Out of the total of 231 exports destinations of Sri Lanka in 2013, Belarus ranked as the 77th export destination, and it is interesting to note that it has progressed from its lower Rank 81 in 2011. Less than one percent, that is 0.05 percent, of our total exports are taken by Belarus. This shows that Belarus is still a virgin market for us with potentials.

Sri Lankan Minister also said, “As for our bilateral trade, the total trade between both countries stood at dollars 14.24 Million in 2013. In 2012, Sri Lanka was at the 69th rank among the countries which are exporting to Belarus. Sri Lanka’s exports to Belarus include tea with a share of about 94%. These facts show that there is huge unrealized trade potentials between both countries that we jointly need to make use of. Sri Lanka offers more than 3520 export products for your importers and today we invite you to select from our expanding basket of products. To this end, the Agreements on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Prevention of Fiscal Evasions between Belarus and Sri Lanka signed by HE the President Mahinda Rajapaksa and His Excellency Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus, in August 2013, can greatly help in improving bilateral trade. We are also invite investors from Belarus to partner with Sri Lanka and invest in more than 50 readymade investment projects offered by our government. In this background, investing in Sri Lanka to re-export is a promising option for investors from Belarus. Preferential tariffs are granted for agreed products under several promising bilateral and multilateral agreements such as South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement, the South Asia Free Trade Agreement, the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement, the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement, and Pakistan-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement and also under the Global System of Trade Preferences. In fact, our Free Trade Agreements with Pakistan and India have opened gateways to a South Asian market of over 1.2 billion people. Equally important is Sri Lanka’s forthcoming FTA with China. This is in a background of our rising bilateral trade with China. China has also become one of the major development partners of Sri Lanka especially supporting us in infrastructure projects. Therefore we invite you to partner with Sri Lanka and take advantage of the “new Asian opportunity” –in that, accessing the two fast growing markets of the world at the same time from Sri Lanka. The two promising markets are South Asia and China. I also believe that our rich heritage, bio diversity, beautiful beaches around the island, scenic beauty, and above all, the warm hospitality of our people will offer a new tourism discovery to Belarus tourists.”

Addressing the opening session Valentin B. Rybakov (Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus) said: “We always attach great significance to JEC sessions that we have with foreign countries. You are absolutely correct in saying bilateral trade levels between Belarus and Sri Lanka are practically negligible. As a result, the (unrealized) trade potential is huge. Belarus views Sri Lanka as an emerging trade partner and a very important partner in the South Asian region. We are definitely interested in establishing long term cooperation with SL in various areas. For us it is vital to diversify our trade and economic relations with the world. This part of the world –South Asia- is a “very-very important” region as it is becoming the global economic driver –especially when you say about a common market of billions of people and this sounds incredible to Belarus, which is a small country. Belarus is also part of the new Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

You are absolutely right about the EEU which is an important economic structure. We know from the development programme of Sri Lanka up to 2020 that one of your key interest/issues is food security. We definitely can help you in this. As you are aware we are supplying you with potash fertilizer and we are keen to expand our support in this. We are also interested in supporting other agricultural areas/sectors since Belarus is one of the countries that ensure total food security to its people. Therefore we can help you in agriculture too. We can also definitely help in industrial matters –we are happy that we already started practical work in setting up a tractor assembly facility in Sri Lanka. We will also continue our cooperation in education-as you know there are sizeable numbers of Lankan students in Belarus. We like to have more Lanka students. The strategic areas of economic development for Belarus are based on two key economic principles-improving business environment and investment; We will definitely be happy to see more Lankan companies as our partners. This session of the JE commission is a result of HE Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Belarus in 2013. We will try to arrange a return visit to Sri Lanka by our head of state. The agreements that can be reached by this two day session will help us in formulating this return visit by our Head of State.”

- Asian Tribune -

Rishad Bathiudeen (Minister of Industry and Commerce of Sri Lanka-centre) addresses the first Sri Lanka-Belarus Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation that commenced at Taj Hotel, Colombo on 09 July.
Valentin B. Rybakov (Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus) addresses the first Sri Lanka-Belarus Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation that commenced at Taj Hotel, Colombo on 09 July.
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