External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna on Sunday inaugurated the office of the Indian consulate in Hambantota, the coastal town in the south and home constituency of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Hambantota has been in the news recently for the giant port project built with the help of China.

The inauguration was last on the action-packed agenda of Mr. Krishna during his four-day visit to the island nation.

The Minister said that the opening of the consulate was reflective of India's desire to strengthen its linkages with a region of Sri Lanka with which India shared deep historical bonds.

Hambantota is the fourth Indian mission in Sri Lanka. Besides the Indian High Commission in Colombo, India has a consulate office in Kandy town in the central hill district to cater to the needs of the Indian origin Tamils. On Friday, Mr. Krishna formally declared open another consulate in Jaffna.

The Minister recalled that during the 2004 tsunami, India, which was impacted itself, was the first to come to Sri Lanka's assistance. Indian Navy ships with food, drinking water and medical supplies on board arrived within 24 hours, delivering succour to many affected communities living within a few kilometres of here.

Regional hub

He referred to the plans of Mr. Rajapaksa to develop Hambantota and its environs as a major regional hub and said that it was one of the factors that influenced India in locating a consulate there.

“Given the optimism we have of the future of this region, the inauguration of the Consulate General is intended to build on India's linkages with this region in the field of trade and commerce, investments, culture and tourism.”

He was confident that India would take advantage of the industrial and commercial potential in and around Hambantota and encourage the private sector to participate in its development by seizing opportunities for investments.

Mr. Krishna noted that India was Sri Lanka's largest trade partner overall and Sri Lanka was one of its largest trade partners in South Asia. The overall trade turnover grew five times within eight years since the entry into force in 2000 of the bilateral Free Trade Agreement.

After a temporary dip in 2009 on account of the global recession, bilateral trade was again on the upswing and Sri Lankan exports to India had grown by over 50 per cent since last year.

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