The National Joint Committee (NJC) yesterday made a public statement requesting parliamentarians to vote against the proposed Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (SLSFTA), describing it as a “blow to national economic interests”.
At a press conference, Mr Nalaka Jayaweera of the NJC was critical of numerous provisions which put the Sri Lankan market at risk of exploitation and expressed concern that the government entered into the trade liberalisation agreement without the endorsement or agreement of a single Sri Lankan institute or professional organisation.
Mr. Jayaweera also pointed out that there were marked differences in the allowances made for Sri Lanka by Singapore in contrast to those made for Singapore by Sri Lanka.
One of the key concerns raised was the move to liberalise the services sector without putting proper national registration mechanisms and relevant regulations in place first, a move which would subject Sri Lanka’s services industry to unchecked encroachment.
Mr Jayaweera argued that the number of service sectors (including architecture, engineering, legal, computing, construction, management consultancy and financial) which are on the FTA’s positive list but do not have registration mechanisms paves the way for “non-nationals with sub-standard qualifications” to enter and practise, compromising the positions held by Sri Lankan professionals and also putting consumers of the industries at risk.
In contrast, Mr. Jayaweera pointed out that Singapore boasts a highly regulated framework for almost all sectors listed for liberalisation as well as a highly saturated market for most industries. As a result, he argued that opening Sri Lanka’s service sectors without national regulation would open up a “single traffic corridor in favour of Singapore”.
Dr. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan of the NJC also raised that in contrast to the FTA’s narrow territorial definition for Singapore, “Sri Lankan territory” is defined broadly in the agreement to include Sri Lanka’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, opening up the opportunity for exploitation of Sri Lanka’s valuable oceanic resources.
The FTA was further criticised for enabling access to Sri Lanka for citizens and permanent residents of Singapore, while Singapore would only enable access to citizens of Sri Lanka under it.
The NJC urged all parliamentarians to vote against the agreement, stating it would not hesitate to “publicly denounce members of parliament who would vote in favour of the anti-patriotic and nationally detrimental international agreement.”
“The future will hold those bureaucrats, professionals and politicians who were instrumental in signing this agreement liable for its negative implications on the Sri Lankan economy,” Mr. Jayaweera said. (Tilini Rajapaksa and Thilanka Kanakarathna)