By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
The Sri Lankan government is currently looking at providing 50 square kilometres of land to China to develop as an exports-oriented industrial zone in Hambantota, the Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama said recently.
“(With) the Chinese, we’ve already had some discussions outside the FTA (free trade agreement), to set up industries, particularly in the Southern Province, in the Hambantota District. They’ve already asked us for 50 sq km of land, which is about 15,000 acres,” Samarawickrama said.
Hambantota is the home base of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had conducted a ‘China first’ foreign policy.
Samarawickrama added that this industrial zone would reduce the volume of goods imported by China through the FTA and generate local employment.
“So we’re in the process of negotiating that; we’re discussing that and trying to find the land. That will be for all kinds of industries which will also be exports. Through that itself, we can create about a million jobs,” Samarawickrama added. Creating one million jobs was an election promise of the incumbent regime.
When asked where other interested parties such as Singapore, India and Japan would receive land from, Samarawickrama said that such industrial zones would not be for the exclusive use of a single country.
“We are not saying that Hambantota is not only for China, right now the interest is from China. We’re looking at giving them special industrial zones, which they can manage and export back to India or China or another country,” he said.
The government has received intense pressure from the public against selling land to foreign countries, as seen with China’s Colombo Port City project initiated by the previous regime.
Samarawickrama added that the industrial zones would be created throughout the country.
“We’re looking at Trincomalee development; we’re looking at Kandy city development; we’re looking at the North Western Province development and also we’re looking at Megapolis development,” he said.
The Asian Development Bank has already expressed interest in creating an economic corridor between Colombo and Trincomalee.
“It won’t be restricted to Colombo only. We will be looking at the East and the North in time to come once infrastructure is developed,” Samarawickrama added.
He said that the government would attempt to woo the Indian pharmaceutical and automobile industries to set up shops here.