By PK Balachandran
The Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Y.K.Sinha, has strongly rebutted “misconceptions and canards” about the proposed Indo-Lanka Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) and the Indian-aided Emergency Ambulance Service.
Speaking at the “Indo-Lankan Workshop on Non Tariff Measures and Increasing Awareness of Indian Standards and Regulations under the Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement” here on Friday, Sinha said that allegations of a “sinister Indian design on Sri Lanka” are coming from “vested interests driven by a political and narrow agenda,” and persons with a “defeatist and protectionist mindset.”
Lambasting “a Professor of Law who was a former Foreign Minister” for repeatedly spreading misconceptions, the envoy recalled that the professor in question had previously been a supporter of close economic ties with India, including CEPA.
Sinha was alluding to Prof.G.L.Peiris, who is currently a mouthpiece of the Joint Opposition Group led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Indian envoy pointed out that the ETCA was proposed, not by India, but by the Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had also suggested a tight timeline for its signing.
Sinha further said that it is too early to comment on the ETCA because what exists at the moment is only a draft “framework agreement” submitted by Lanka to India two days ago. India is yet to study it and give its comments, he said. And to date, there is no Indian draft.
Sinha described as “absurd” the Lankan critics’ contention that the island will be flooded by Indians from “IT professionals to barbers”; that the ETCA is but a “Trojan Horse” of India; and that it is being thrust on Lanka because it will be more advantageous to India.
Sinha said that there is no chance of Indian IT professionals flooding Lanka, as they enjoy a world-wide demand. He reminded Lankans of Indian domination of the “Silicon Valley” in the US, and IT jobs in the US being Bangalored. “I can assure you, Sri Lankans will not be Bangalored,” he said.
It is claimed that IT services and Ship Building will be opened to Indian professionals. But Sinha contended that it is up to the Lankan government, not India, to decide which sectors should be opened up for Indian professionals.
Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement
Looking back at the now abandoned bid to sign an Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), Sinha said that CEPA had envisaged opening up IT and Ship Building for Indian service professionals, but the opening was restricted to only a small percentage of high level skilled jobs. India, on the other hand, had opened up 80 sectors to Lankan professionals under CEPA.
On the Emergency Ambulance Service, Sinha said that a canard that it will bring in hoards of Indians is being spread, though only three or four Indians will be among the 600 employees.
The service, which is being set up at the request of the Lankan government, will be entirely funded by India and rendered free of charge for the first year. Thereafter, it will be the Lankan government which will decide on the nature of the service and its management.
“Those who are opposing the service seem to want people to die without emergency care,” Sinha said.
Refuting the contention that Lanka does not need foreign assistance in health care, Sinha pointed out that, on an average annually, about 1000 Lankans go to Indian hospitals for treatment. Many go to Singapore too.
Free Trade Agreement
On the criticism that the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed in 2000 has benefitted India rather than Lanka, Sinha said that while 90 percent of India’s exports to Lanka, including automobiles, do not use the FTA concessions, 60 percent of Lanka’s exports to India depend on FTA concessions. Without the FTA, Lanka’s exports to India will plummet.
Further on the alleged unfair advantage enjoyed by India in its economic relations with Lanka, Sinha pointed out it is Indian business which sustains Colombo port. Transshipment business with India accounts for 70 percent of the business of the port. 75 percent of the 105 weekly flights to India are accounted for by Sri Lankan Airlines and Mihin Air. Air India and other Indian airlines don’t complain about this!
“Colombo Dockyard has built two ferries for India, and a Lankan company is building 80 petrol boats for the Indian navy,” Sinha said.
On persistent complaints about Non-Tariff Barriers (NTB) in India, the envoy said that India is ready to discuss “genuine grievances” and assured that Lankan goods are not singled out.
The one-day workshop on the problems in the FTA was addressed by experts from the relevant Indian departments and institutions.
Courtesy:New Indian Express