The Sri Lankan market will only be exposed to preferential foreign access over an eight to 10-year period under the trade agreements the government is currently negotiating, according to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
“We are not looking at opening our borders to all foreign goods. No. We want to phase the implementation of the agreements over a period of eight to 10 years – eight to 10 years for our businesses to grow, to become more competitive, to go out into the world, to be brave,”
The oft-talked about trade adjustment package would help the local industries in this endeavour, according to the premier, who was speaking at the Business Today Top 30 awards this Monday.
Sri Lanka is currently negotiating agreements with China and Singapore and a deeper economic arrangement with India to supplement the near two-decade-old free trade agreement (FTA).
The state-owned Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute’s Global Economy Programme Chair Dr. Ganeshan Wignaraja last month said that Sri Lanka should enjoy larger benefits for a significant period of time when entering into trade agreements with economic giants.
In the case of China, he said that the FTA was political in nature and Sri Lanka should enjoy an ‘anything but arms’ preferential entry into Chinese markets for a 10-year period, during which China would not enjoy preferential access to Sri Lankan markets.
The government is hoping to sign further FTAs with Bangladesh, Thailand and others.
Wickremesinghe said that once the more immediate agreements with Singapore, China and India are signed, other longer-term goals would be pursued as well.
“With these three trade agreements in place and with GSP Plus, what do we do next? If we get into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), you get all of ASEAN, you have China and India with Singapore and you get Japan, South Korea and Australia. That’s a big market. We have to enter that. And then you look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) without the USA,”
In the case of the proposed TPP, which has higher standards than the RCEP, he said that Sri Lanka will have to earn the observer status and then work up to becoming a
Wickremesinghe said that the government has taken the five-year period of its first term to plan out and it will execute these plans over the next five-year term.
Recently, former Central Bank Deputy Governor W.A. Wijewardena said that the government has to juggle the implementation of its economic plans while getting re-elected and advised the government to not focus only on re-election. (CW)