Indian wheat for Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, DEC. 30. India is to supply one-third of Sri Lanka's wheat requirement at concessionary prices under an agreement reached during the recent visit of the Prime Minister, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, to New Delhi.

The Cabinet spokesman and Minister for Industries, Mr. G.L. Peiris, said at a news conference today that the agreement would help the Government keep wheat prices from rising.

Earlier this week, the Government withdrew part of the subsidy on wheat flour, which sent the price up by more than 20 per cent. ``One of the more positive aspects of the visit of the Prime Minister to India was an agreement under which India will provide one-third of Sri Lanka's wheat requirement,'' Mr. Peiris said.

Under the agreement, New Delhi will send 25,000 tonnes of wheat per month to Sri Lanka for a one-year period at low rates, giving Indian wheat a toehold in a market that has so far been dominated by North America.

The modalities of the supply are still being worked out but India has signalled its preparedness to start sending the consignments as soon as Sri Lanka gives the green signal.

Sri Lanka does not grow wheat and imports about 900,000 tonnes annually. Earlier this year, the Government opened up the wheat sector to allow private firms to begin importing the grain.

Indian wheat has so far been unable to break into this market, as it could not meet the specifications and technical requirements of the Sri Lankan Government.

More than 50 per cent of the wheat in Sri Lanka is imported from the U.S. while the rest comes from Canada, Australia and Argentina. Wheat is on Sri Lanka's negative list in the Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The Sri Lankan market is dictated by Prima, the island's only flour mill owned by a Singapore-based company.

Despite the liberalisation, Prima is at present the only importer of wheat. Earlier this year, a bid by the Indian Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation (MMTC) for 50,000 tonnes of wheat was rejected on specifications although it was the lowest on offer.

Mr. Peiris said today that the specifications were being re-considered as part of the Government move to re-examine its arrangement with Prima, which has so far benefited by preferential treatment for wheat imports.

100 day programme

The Minister also announced the launching of a 100-day development programme from January 1, and said the public would be asked to evaluate it on January 25.

The programme will focus on streamlining existing Government schemes, and also on the implementation of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution that was passed by Parliament before the elections.

The Amendment envisages the setting up of independent commissions for elections, judiciary, the public service and the police.

Mr. Peiris said as soon as Parliament reconvened next month, the Government would seek the support of all parties to set up a Constitutional Council of MPs to appoint the commissions.

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