Two of the most outspoken critics of broadening economic ties with India via a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA), who have lent their voices to bashing Sri Lankan economists and public officials responsible for finalising the agreement, citing India’s trade policies have now had a change of heart.
According to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, M. P. Wickremasinghe, Chairman, Ceylon Biscuits Ltd of Munchee fame, and Kulathunga Rajapaksa, Managing and Executive Director of Samson International PLC, are both now keen to explore business opportunities in India.
CEPA was not only intended to formalise trade, but also investments and the movement of people between the two countries, with adequate safeguards to protect Sri Lanka’s interests. Economists and public officials negotiating the deal had always maintained that they had Sri Lanka’s best interests at heart, and that reciprocity was never on the agenda.
But some industrialists, including Wickremasinghe and Rajapaksa,, forming the Mawbima Lanka Foundation opposed CEPA, complained about the lack of transparency about the entire CEPA process, heavily criticizing India’s trade policies under the existing Free Trade Agreement.
They openly questioned the loyalties of those supporting the CEPA, sometimes using nationalistic sentiments to tarnish the image of these officials who saw the economic potential Sri Lanka could enjoy through the agreement, which is now in cold storage.
“I always favoured to go to India. And we all looked forward to this CEO Forum. I am not looking for JVs now but want to increase sales there. In fact, it is better selling to India rather than any other country due to the proximity and huge market. If the sincerity in which the Indian delegation spoke is also maintained at official levels, it will be very good for bilateral trade,” Wickremasinghe said.
Wickremasinghe’s and Rajapaksa’s change of heart follows another anti-India industrialist who recently announced his willingness to boost trade ties with India (see The Island Financial Review of Thursday August 09, 2012).
“Wickremasinghe’s ‘Muchee’ brand set the grounds to revamp the biscuit market by new innovations and aggressive marketing and today, according to the Chamber of Commerce, Munchee holds 56% share of Lanka’s biscuits market while also exporting to 45 countries,” the Ministry of Industry of Commerce noted.
The ministry said many top Lankan CEOs were now vying for partnership with Indian businesses and that four top Lankan corporates want to enter the upcoming Trincomalee’s Manufacturing Special Economic Zone after high level forum earlier this month.
“Almost all Lankan CEOs at the Forum were keen to increase trade with India. More importantly, they wanted closer links with Indian businesses –after all, it is Business to Business trade that will make the difference,” said Kulathunga Rajapaksa, Managing and Executive Director of Samson International PLC on 09 August. Kulathunga Rajapaksa was also the Co-Chair of the Indo-Lanka CEO Forum held on 04 August in Colombo.
Rajapaksa further said: “My firm is keen on a joint venture (JV) with Indian firms in the rubber sector. In that, we are keen to enter the upcoming Manufacturing Special Economic Zone (MSEZ) by India for automotive components. We like to manufacture rubber based components in this for Indian market.” Kulathunga Rajapaksa’s US$ 5.4 million revenue (2011) Samson International PLC is a conglomerate and a market leader for footwear and bicycle tyres. Courtesy: The Island