UPM Media Coordinator Engineer Gamini Nanda Gunawardena flanked by representatives of other professional bodies, addressing the media at OPA premises in Colombo
Pic by Damith Wickramasinghe
By Nishel Fernando
Professionals led by Sri Lanka Engineers Association (SLEA) and United Professional Movement (UPM) and backed by the Organisation of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka (OPA) and the influential government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) yesterday threatened with trade union actions if the government fails to ratify the Singapore Sri Lanka FTA (SLSFTA) in Parliament with 2/3 majority as it poses serious challenges to national security.
They also demanded the government to hold all other bi-lateral agreement negotiations currently underway until the professionals’ concerns are addressed.
Addressing a press conference jointly organised by SLEA and UPM in Colombo, yesterday, the professionals charged that SLSFTA will have a serious negative impact on the livelihoods of Sri Lankan people and to the country’s territorial integrity.
They also charged that the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade (MODSIT) under Minister Malik Samarawickrama has violated key agreements it reached with UPM in particular to service liberalisation in July, 2016.
The professionals demanded the government to hold all other bi-lateral agreement negotiations until the establishment of a joint working committee (JWC) with stakeholder participation and assurance is given to expedite enactment of relevant legal and regulatory frameworks.
UPM Media Coordinator Engineer Gamini Nanda Gunawardena elaborated that MODSIT earlier agreed to set up a JWC encompassing all pertinent stakeholders with the approval of Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM) and to facilitate and enable expeditious review of legal regimes related to professional services to ensure service quality, visa, tax laws, accreditation processes for foreign professionals and enact relevant amendments prior to liberalising any services in bilateral agreements.
However, Gunawardena blamed MODSIT for its failure to implement the proposals that the both parties agreed upon, which ultimately resulted in breaching the trust between the professionals and the government.
“We at the UPM hereby express our total dissatisfaction over the gross negligence of MODSIT to streamline the negotiation and consultation process as per commitment given by them and signing the bi-lateral agreement with Singapore disregarding all their commitments to stakeholders,” he said.
He argued that on the base of potential threats to national security through SLSFTA, it needs to seek the approval of 2/3 majority in Parliament noting that the country’s judiciary recently recognised FTAs contain information which is sensitive to the national security.
Gunawardena emphasised that the professionals are more worried about the proposed Indo-Sri Lanka Economic and Technology Cooperation Framework Agreement (ETCA) and China-Sri Lanka FTA as Sri Lanka will be forced to give similar benefits to India and China in line with SLSFTA under WTO rule of most-favoured-nation (MFN), which adversely impacts the services sector employment.
He also charged that the government has neither conducted a national interest analysis nor regulatory impact assessment on the SLSFTA.
Meanwhile, UPM, Technical Committee Coordinator Aruna Kantha Bandara asserted that the professionals are willing to take strong trade union actions, if their concerns are not addressed. GMOA has already announced its plans to launch work stoppage on May 17 on SLSFTA, if the president doesn’t intervene to address the concerns raised by professionals.
MODSIT earlier this week rejected the claims made by the professionals in a detailed statement, claiming that they would continue to engage in constructive dialogue with trade chambers and professional bodies, even in the future, as the government negotiate other bilateral trade agreements. Meanwhile, representing OPA, its former president, Thilina Kiringoda revealed that 7 separate fundamental right petitions have been filed in the court challenging the SLSFTA by various professional organisations.
SLSFTA is the first trade agreement Sri Lanka entered into in 10 years and it is also the first comprehensive agreement beyond trade in goods. According to Minister Samarawickrama, the main objective SLSFTA is to attract investments from Singapore providing protection to Singaporean investors.
He also stressed that SLSFTA has sent a strong message to the world that Sri Lanka is open to reforms and committed to liberalisation of its economy.
SLSFTA covers the areas of services, investment, sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and technical barriers to trade (TBT), trade remedies and dispute settlement, customs cooperation and trade facilitation, economic and technological cooperation, government procurement, e-commerce and intellectual property rights.
However, the movement of natural persons has not been opened except for intra-corporate transferees in senior management and business visitors linked to investments.
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