- Cabinet approval expected for new FTA negotiation team next couple of weeks
- FTA talks with India, China and Thailand likely to resume from March onwards
By Nishel Fernando
Director General of Department of Commerce (DoC) Sonali Wijeratne is tipped to be appointed the Chief Negotiator of Sri Lanka’s Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiation team shortly, as the country plans to resume FTA talks from this March following the completion of the reviewing process of proposed FTAs.
“It is most likely that the DG of DoC will be appointed as the Chief Negotiator with the approval of the Cabinet,” Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama told Mirror Business yesterday, on the sidelines of the 17th Exporters Forum held at Export Development Board (EDB) in Colombo.
The post of Chief FTA Negotiator remained vacant as former Chief FTA Negotiator K.J. Weerasinghe tendered his resignation, indicating health reasons earlier this year.
The move is expected to considerably increase the involvement of DoC in the FTA negotiation process.
Several experts in international trade were critical of DoC’s limited involvement in the FTA negotiations process, although several DoC officials were included in the core FTA negotiation team and the sub-committee to obtain their technical expertise.
The DoC is responsible for foreign trade policy formulation, and all related coordination and implementation matters. However, it comes under the purview of the Industry of Commerce Ministry.
The new FTA negotiation team is likely to be consisted of few new members as well as several existing members.
Samarawickrama plans to seek Cabinet approval for the new FTA negotiating team within the next couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, the reviewing process of all completed feasibility studies of the on-going FTA negotiations as well as the proposed FTAs are expected to be completed with the involvement of the Commerce Department by end of February.
Following the conclusion of the review, Samarawickrama said that the government plans to resume FTA talks with India, China and Thailand while FTA negations with Bangladesh is expected to commence following the completion of a joint feasibility study.
The Sri Lankan and Indian FTA negotiators have already completed 11 rounds of negotiations on the Economic and Technology Co-operation Agreement (ETCA). Sri Lanka and Thailand launched FTA talks for the proposed FTA in July last year.
However, the proposed China-Sri Lanka FTA talks remain stalled for over one year due to disagreements over the schedule of tariff liberalisation.
Speaking of Sri Lanka-Singapore FTA (SLSFTA), Samarawickrama said that the agreement can be reviewed in April during the scheduled joint committee meeting between the two countries as stated in the agreement.
However, he pointed out that despite heavy criticism, no one has come forward with proposals to amend any specific articles in the agreement.
Samarawickrama expects to appoint the Sri Lanka side of the joint committee soon.
“The committee will ask departmental heads whether they need any amendments after departmental heads review all SLSFTA chapters. Then, we can discuss those proposals in April, if there are any,” he said.
Referring to the report of the Committee of Experts (CoE) on SLSFTA commissioned by the President, Samarawickrama pointed out that the report mostly looked into procedures rather than pointing at specific articles that need to be amended.
The SLSFTA is Sri Lanka’s first comprehensive FTA covering goods, services, e-commerce, telecommunications, foreign direct investment, intellectual property and public procurement.
Samarawickrama reiterated that the main purpose of the SLSFTA was to draw foreign investments to the country.