Enhanced trade relations with China will not affect Maldives’s relations with its neighbours, said visiting Ministers here on Monday, defending a recent Free Trade Agreement with the giant.
Their comments, made at a press conference at the Maldivian Embassy in Colombo, came in the wake of a trade pact inked by the two countries last week. While President Abdullah Yameen’s government has described the deal as a favourable development, the Opposition has voiced concern over its apparently quick negotiation.
On the criticism that the deal was pushed in the Maldivian Parliament in less than an hour, Maldivian Ambassador Mohamed Hussain Shareef said: “Our MPs were already familiar with the contents of the agreement... the actual negotiations have been going for three years.” The FTA, the dignitaries said, covers nearly 300 products, even as Opposition MPs charged that little information had been made available to them.
India, known to be watching China’s increasing presence in the region with concern, is yet to comment on the development.
Clarifying that the FTA with China was “purely commercial”, Mr. Shareef said Male was mindful of regional security.“When it comes to security in the Indian Ocean Region, it is between the Maldives, India and Sri Lanka. No one else is welcome, be it friends from the East or West,” he said, amid concerns voices by Opposition forces over the island’s sovereignty.
While there is an existing agreement on South Asian Free Trade Area since 1993, it has not worked well for the Maldives, they observed, pointing to non-tariff barriers that came in the way of free trade in the region. On the other hand the pact with China, according to Fisheries and Agriculture Minister Mohamed Shainee, would enable trade without such barriers.