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Year Ender 2023: India’s assistance holds the boat for Sri Lanka as it battles waves of economic crisis

As Sri Lanka’s battle against economic crisis remains persistent, India’s assistance to the island nation gives the country an anchorage to hold its boat under its ‘neighbourhood first’ policy.

The External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar visited India twice this year. His first visit took place at the start of this year (January 2023) and his second one in October.

During his January visit, Jaishankar not only assured Sri Lanka of India’s unwavering support to the island nation in its economic recovery but also invited the country’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe to visit India.

Following this, the Sri Lankan President arrived here in New Delhi in July this year at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

During his visit, President Wickremesinghe met his Indian counterpart Droupadi Murmu and discussed various issues of mutual interest with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Indian dignitaries as well.

According to an MEA release, Wickremesinghe’s visit was to reinforce the longstanding friendship between the two countries and explore avenues for enhanced connectivity and mutually beneficial cooperation across sectors.

Celebrating the 75 years of diplomatic relationship with each other, India and Sri Lanka also unveiled a logo earlier in October.

Posting the logo on his social media platform, X, Jaishankar then wrote, “India and Sri Lanka launched a logo celebrating the 75 Years of our diplomatic relationship today.” “Captures our deep historical, cultural and people-to-people bonds,” he had said, at the time when the logo was launched.

Time and again, the frequent visits from the leaders of both countries have proven the diplomatic ties between the two countries have always remained cordial and friendly.

India and Sri Lanka, apart from engaging on various fora, also are a good maritime neighbour to each other.

The highly advanced Indian Naval Ship ‘Nireekshak’ arrived at the port of Trincomalee in September this year to facilitate Mixed Gas Diving training for the Sri Lanka Navy, according to the press release from the Indian High Commission in Colombo.

Previously, in September 2019 and March 2022, the ship made two trips to Trincomalee as part of an SLN diver training mission. The ongoing interaction between Indian Naval vessels and the Sri Lankan Navy aligns with the Government of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, which aims to enhance capabilities.

The foreign minister of Sri Lanka, Ali Sabry, in an interview to ANI, had stated earlier in September that his country is attempting to establish better ties with India in the areas of port shipping connectivity, tourism, electricity, and renewable energy.

Sabry further stressed that Sri Lanka has seen a big opportunity in India.

“We have seen a big opportunity here, that’s the idea. I’m sure we will be able to do that and that will be better for both countries.” He said that Sri Lanka wants a good region with prosperity, peace, harmony, and among all, “we want a good and prosperous neighbour.” Sabry further praised India and added, “India is going that path. We want to go with them.” While talking about the current situation in the country and India’s assistance, Sebry highlighted that the situation is much better compared to last year.

“Inflation has come down, the Rupee has stabilised, reserves have risen, and tourism has increased… It is India who provided us with various forms of assistance worth 3.9 billion,” he added.

Moreover, he expressed his gratitude and said that India can proudly claim a great part of the credit that Sri Lanka has achieved today.

Underscoring his meeting with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Serby expressed his happiness to meet him and said that the two ministers had a small conversation on ways to strengthen the India-Sri Lanka relationship.

“I have invited him to visit Sri Lanka for the IORA. He promised that he would try his level best to make it and to take the country forward,” he said.

Last year, India supplied over 270,000 MT of fuel to Sri Lanka so far to help ease the power crisis in the island country which was witnessing acute power cuts. Moreover, Sri Lanka also signed a USD 1 billion credit line with India for procurement of food, medicines and other essential items, amid the island nation’s worsening economic crisis. The agreement was signed between the State Bank of India (SBI) and the Government of Sri Lanka, during Sri Lankan Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksha’s two-day visit to India.

Meanwhile, Jaishankar, who visited Colombo for the second time in October in 2023, had bilateral meetings with the Sri Lankan leaders there.

He had said that India’s commitment to the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is deeply rooted in the principles of peaceful coexistence, shared prosperity, and regional collaboration.

“For Member States to grow and prosper, development challenges must be continuously and effectively addressed. In particular, we should cooperate on various aspects of the maritime economy, resources, connectivity and security,” the EAM said at the press conference of the 23rd IORA Council of Ministers Meeting in Sri Lanka.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is an inter-governmental organisation aimed at strengthening regional cooperation and sustainable development within the Indian Ocean region through its 23 Member States and 11 Dialogue Partners, as per the IORA website. Jaishankar then said: “We should be equally clear where the dangers are, be it in hidden agendas, in unviable projects or in unsustainable debt. Exchange of experiences, sharing of best practices, greater awareness and deeper collaboration are part of the solutions.”

India and Sri Lanka held the 12th round of negotiations on the Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) in Colombo, Sri Lanka from October 30, 2023 to November 1, 2023. The two countries had 11 rounds of bilateral talks from 2016 to 2018. Thereafter the negotiations were paused.

According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the three-day long meeting was held in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.

The Sri Lankan delegation was led by KJ Weerasinghe, Chief Negotiator and the Indian delegation was led by Shri Anant Swarup, Joint Secretary in the Department of Commerce, Government & Chief Negotiator.

During this round, both sides took stock of the progress made till the 11th round and engaged in discussions on various chapters, including Trade in Goods, Technical Barriers to Trade, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, Trade in Services, Custom Procedure and trade Facilitation, Rules of Origin, Trade Remedies, Economic & Technology Cooperation and Dispute Settlement. Both sides identified areas of convergence and areas where they need to find creative solutions, the statement said.

Additionally, both sides reviewed the progress on implementation and decided to drop nine issues as being resolved.

Issues such as the quota on apparel and pepper and the procurement of pharmaceuticals were also discussed and both sides decided to continue the discussion and explore new options for resolution of the matter. On the proposed ETCA, both sides agreed on the need to build on progress made in the past while revisiting their positions wherever possible to reflect new developments.

Moreover, the Ministry said that the conclusion of the negotiations is expected to open new opportunities for trade and economic cooperation for both countries. The India-Sri Lanka ETCA will be a pivotal move to further enhance bilateral trade between the two countries.

Both sides acknowledged the huge potential of the India-Sri Lanka trade partnership and the possibilities for enhanced economic relations in areas of mutual interest.

Sri Lanka has been reeling under a severe economic crisis in recent years, with the COVID-19 pandemic virtually bringing the significant tourism industry of the island country to a standstill.

In addition, a foreign exchange crisis, heavy Chinese debts, and a failed move to shift the country’s agriculture to 100 per cent organic had intensified the difficult situation. However, Notably, India, in several instances has assisted on various fronts to its island neighbour to tide over its economic crisis.

In the latest development, Sri Lankan Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana, who is currently leading a Parliamentary delegation to India, called on Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla following which Birla emphasised that Sri Lanka continues to be an important partner in India’s growth story.

Abeywardana called on Lok Sabha Speaker Birla at the Parliament House Complex in the national capital.

As a strategic neighbour, Birla stressed the importance of Sri Lanka in the Indian context. “Observing that both countries are deeply linked economically as well as tourist destinations, Birla lauded the fact that Sri Lanka continues to be an important partner in India’s growth story.

He hoped that the ties fostered for so long would strengthen over time,” according to an official release, and further said that the two countries are not only close neighbours but also guardians of a shared history, culture, and democratic values that bind the two nations together.

Praising the trajectory of the economic growth of India, Sri Lankan Parliament Speaker Abeywardana expressed his gratitude for the assistance provided by India in myriad fields.

“He stated that several infrastructural projects were being undertaken with India’s assistance, which would further the economic development of the island nation,” the statement said. He also expressed his admiration for the education system in this country and felt that collaborations with Sri Lankan students would benefit them immensely.

Source: India News