From left: Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) Chairman Razeen Sally, former Government of India Finance and Economic Affairs Secretary Dr. S. Narayan and Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute (LKI) Global Economy Programme Chair Dr. Ganeshan Wignaraja during the panel discussion on ‘India-Sri Lanka Economic Relation in Modi’s India’, co-hosted by the IPS and LKI
Pic by Pradeep Pathirana
By Shabiya Ali Ahlam
Indo-Sri Lanka trade has the potential to reach new heights if the island nation is ready to do away with its obsession with Tamil Nadu, a top economist said, a move according to him, would also help to iron out the issues in boosting Lankan exports to the neighbouring giant.
According to former Government of India Finance and Economic Affairs Secretary Dr. S. Narayan, who is a trained economist, Sri Lanka’s obsession with Tamil Nadu, due to historical, political and emotional reasons, is hampering its efforts in strengthening its ties with India as a whole.
“You (Sri Lanka) want to do business largely there (Tamil Nadu). Today, the opportunity in other South Indian states is much more, in states such as Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Bangalore.
These are state governments that are calling you and are ready to welcome you with open arms,” he told a panel discussion in Colombo this week.
Dr. Narayan added that the opportunity to deal with South India and not just exclusively with Tamil Nadu is evident as the mentioned states are backed by the necessary political will and governments that are trade and business-friendly.
As Sri Lankan exports to India under the Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement grapple with non-tariff barriers, it was pointed out that the South Indian states can assist in reducing the bottlenecks.
“If the non-trade barriers are made simpler, these states can help. They can help as a lot of them are coastal states and can help in ensuring that the ports have the jurisdiction to make clearance faster,”
Meanwhile, it was also stressed that it is imperative to increase the momentum in deepening the Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement, which has failed to “progress seriously” in the last 10 to 15 years.
As both countries are faced with issues that are largely to do with non-tariff barriers, it was suggested the trade negotiations shift gear as the problems faced are “incidents rather than issues”.
“Often the trade negotiations happen at the level of policymakers where often they talk about tariff lines and items that should be included or excluded in the goods and services trade.
But perhaps there is an opportunity to move this conversation away from tariff lines into non-tariff barriers and renegotiate seriously,” professed the economist.
Dr. Narayan reiterated that it is imperative to move the discussion away from the “larger picture to a more business picture” and to deal with the issues the businesses are experiencing and not what the governments are faced with.
India is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner globally, while Sri Lanka is India’s second largest trading partner in the SAARC.