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Collaboration, not competition for SAARC’s way forward

(UDHAYAM, COLOMBO) – Sri Lanka’s historic Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) started not with any distant continents but in its own backyard-and more investments in South Asia can help stop the brain drain from the region where a quarter of global population are living.

“I believe more FDIs can be sourced for SAARC if we collaborate, rather than compete. Even trade within the SAARC countries is less than 6 percent” said a determined Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen on Thursday (18) in Colombo. Minister Bathiudeen was addressing the press briefing announcing the SAARC Investment Forum & Trade Fair in September. The briefing was jointly organised by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry of Sri Lanka, and Islamabad based SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SAARCCCI). A study report by “SAARC Investment Outlook” by Islamabad’s SAARCCCI was introduced while FCCISL unveiled its report “Eliminating Non-Tariff Barriers on Sri Lanka to Improve Trade with SAARC Countries on Selected Products” at this session, joined by SAARC CCI Executive Director Hina Saeed, President of SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry Suraj Vaidya, and President Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry Sri Lanka Sarath Kahapalaarchchi, among others. “SAARC Investment Outlook” manual by Islamabad’s SAARCCCI introduces many prospective large scale investment opportunities available among SAARC members in heavy infrastructure, energy, tourism, and agro and dairy sectors.

“Nearly a quarter of the world’s population lives in SAARC. Sri Lanka’s historic Free Trade Agreements started in the SAARC region. The Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement and Pakistan-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement allow more than 8000 product lines to be exported to these two markets at zero duty” said Minister Bathiudeen and added: “Sri Lanka is also a proud partner of South Asia Free Trade Agreement. Being in South Asia SAARC is not a strange thing to us and especially for my Ministry. For example, SAARC supports the Measurement Units Standards and Services Department (MUSSD) and the National Measurement Laboratory under my Ministry to integrate various regional standards and measurements. Still we note that, as President of SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry Suraj Vaidya just said, the brain drain has become an issue in SAARC. We cannot retain skills if we do not have investment, and I believe more FDIs can be sourced for SAARC if we collaborate, rather than compete. Even trade within the SAARC countries is less than 6 percent. Low time period given for SAARC visa is also impacting SAARC business. Lack of investment and integration in South Asia are also reasons for these obstacles. Therefore events such as this SAARC Investment Forum & Trade Fair not only help to expand investment and trade in the region but also create closer relations among members. I have been given to understand that the Investment Forum is expected welcome over 250 investors and will have local and foreign investors and entrepreneurs fund managers CEO’s and owners of enterprises.”

President of SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry Suraj Vaidya called for a stop to skills migration out of SAARC region. “Our skilled employees are leaving and working elsewhere. The reason is the low investment. Drawing more FDI can create more and better employment in the region. In its 30 year history SAARC has learnt and grown a lot. Can you tell us that in the next 30 years we will not be looking for needed skills elsewhere, while being the fastest growing region in the world? ”

According to the World Bank, South Asia is now the fastest growing region in the world. Its 7.1% growth in 2016 is expected to rise to 7.3% in 2017. World Bank South Asia Region’s Vice President Annette Dixon declared that private investment – a key future growth driver across South Asia – is yet to be “ignited to sustain and further increase economic growth.”

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