Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is visiting Australia at the invitation of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, held discussions with the Australian Premier at the Parliament House in Canberra yesterday.
Following bilateral discussions between the two sides, the two leaders witnessed the signing of two Memorandums of Understanding on development cooperation and on strengthening cooperation in sport.
Addressing a press conference following their meeting, the Australian PM said they had a fruitful discussion, reflecting the very deep relationship between Australia and Sri Lanka.
The discussions focused on maritime cooperation, Australia’s support for Sri Lanka’s economic development, trade and cooperation in sports.
“We are Indian Ocean neighbours and we have a shared interest in a secure, stable and prosperous region. In particular, safe and open Indian Ocean trade routes are critically important to both our nations and it’s fitting then that maritime cooperation is such an important focus,” Premier Turnbull said.
He said as Sri Lanka is making great strides to recover from years of terrible civil conflict, Australia through its aid program will play a small part in supporting the Sri Lankan Government’s reconciliation agenda, which is laying the groundwork for long-term, sustainable and inclusive peace.
“We’re proud to play a small part in supporting this through our aid program, which assists with skills development, fostering market opportunities for small businesses and women’s participation in the workforce,” Turnbull said adding that the MoU on development cooperation sets out a framework for the program going ahead.
The Aussie Premier noted that the economic relationship between the two countries is growing and the trade between Sri Lanka and Australia was worth around $1 billion last year. Australian companies are investing in Sri Lanka, encouraged by the Sri Lankan government’s economic reform agenda, he said.
Turnbull pointed out that Australia remains a popular destination for Sri Lankan students to study abroad and some 7,500 Sri Lankans are studying in Australia.
Sri Lanka and Australia also signed a MoU to strengthen cooperation in sport which will see exchanges of athletes, coaches, managers, health professionals, sports scientists, as well as sharing of anti-doping technology.
Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka formed a national government, for healing, for reconciliation, for further deepening and strengthening the democratic structures and now has to look to the future and is seeking Australia’s support.
“When we look to the future, we have no better friend than Australia. We have worked together, we have been together in the most difficult times, and have stood with us during the internal conflict in Sri Lanka,” Wickremesinghe said.
He said Sri Lanka seeks to build on its position as a strategic hub in the Indian Ocean for business and for logistics, for manufacturing.
“We are going to expand in these areas and I have been talking to the Prime Minister on closer cooperation between our two countries, and how we could, with similar-minded countries and other leaders, influence the outcome. We want peace, we want everyone to prosper and we want to ensure that secure navigation, lanes of shipping in our area,” Wickremesinghe said.
“So we look forward to Australia to gain some of the technology that is required to look at the prospects of coming to Sri Lanka, and investing and more than anything else, a very, very close relationship that will carry on for the next few decades. We can set an example of that close friendship, beyond cricket,” Wickremesinghe added.