NATIONAL

Sri Lanka Trade Centre inaugurated in Chennai

The Tamil Nadu Education Minister, S. Semmalai (centre), the High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in India, Mangala Moonesinghe (right), and the Sri Lankan Export Development Board Chairman, Ratna Sivaratnam, during the inauguration of the Sri Lanka Trade Centre at Spencer Plaza in Chennai on Thursday. — Photo: T.A. Hafeez  

CHENNAI, FEB. 26. The Chairman of the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka, Arjunna Mahendran, today asserted that the "suspension of the peace talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE will not deter any prospective investors in the island nation."

"Both Sri Lanka and India are in the same situation of facing general elections. And with polls scheduled in the month of April in Sri Lanka, there need be no apprehension in the minds of the overseas investors including India for investing in Sri Lanka", Mr. Mahendran told a news conference after participating in the inaugural ceremony of the Sri Lanka Trade Centre here.

Stating that a Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1998 relating to trading of goods, Mr. Mahendran said both the Indian and Sri Lankan Prime Ministers, in 2002, wanted the scope of the agreement widened and thereby principally agreed upon to have a "comprehensive economic partnership agreement" (CEPA) in October 2003. Accordingly, he said a high-level joint study group was set up to go into the modalities and by March this year, the CEPA was expected to be formalised which would step up not only bilateral relations but also economic cooperation.

The recent move by New Delhi allowing private domestic carriers to fly to Colombo would further step up the trade relations and promote tourism in a big way, the Investment Board Chief said. Exploratory talks were currently on between India and Sri Lanka to have a "Hanuman bridge" for facilitating vehicular movement. "All the technical modalities were being worked out between the two sides," he said, adding that all forms of transportation would be mutually beneficial and help trade and tourism to grow. In this context, he said there had been significant growth of trade after the FTA with exports to India touching $250 million and India's imports to Sri Lanka accounting for over $1,000 million.

He said pharmaceuticals, automotive and textiles were some of the identified key areas in which investors planning to set up their units in Sri Lanka. Referring to Infotech, Mr. Mahendran said it was heartening to note that premier institutions such as the NIIT and other software companies were exploring business opportunities in the field of education.

Asked whether Sri Lanka was keen to have similar FTAs with other countries, Mr. Mahendran said preliminary talks were on with Pakistan and also South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries to help enhance the Sri Lakan trade presence in the SAARC region.

Inaugurating the trade centre, S. Semmalai, Tamil Nadu Minister for Education, promised all support to the Sri Lankan Government for expanding their trade and tourism-related activities in the State. The pro-active approach of the Tamil Nadu Government was evident from the fact that Chennai was chosen as the destination to house the Sri Lanka Trade Centre.

Mangala Moonesinghe, High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in India, said that with the opening of the trade centre in Chennai, bilateral ties would be strengthened.

Explaining the salient features of the trade centre, the Chief of the Sri Lanka Export Development Board, Ratna Sivaratnam, said the 20,000 sq. ft outlet at the third phase of the Spencer Plaza was custom designed by Sri Lanka's foremost designers at a cost of Rs.1.7 crores.

Seventeen frontline Sri Lankan companies are displaying apparel, artificial flowers, confectionaries, footwear and leather products, gems and jewellery, herbal products, light engineering products, porcelain, tableware, Ceylon tea, toys, transportation and airlines.

G.T. Jayaseelan, Commercial Head of the Sri Lankan Airlines, said the airlines with 40 per equity share held by Emirates Airlines, was not afraid of any "healthy competition" in the civil aviation sector. "We welcome the open sky policy decision of the private domestic carriers to fly to Colombo and we are also keen to spread our wings to more Indian points."