Renewed negotiations of the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between Sri Lanka and India will not cause a free flow of natural persons to Sri Lanka, contrary to protectionist industrialists who claim so, according to the country’s economic policy planner.
“Don’t be misled; there will not be a free movement of natural persons. They can request and we can say no,” Policy Planning and Economic Affairs Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva said.
He was responding to Nature’s Beauty Creations Chairman Samantha Kumarasinghe who was quoting the final draft of the previous CEPA negotiations, which would have allowed Indian companies to employ up to 50 percent Indians depending on their size of investment.
He was concerned over the comparative sizes of the two populations, and unemployment levels in India leading to mass migrations and Sri Lankans losing jobs in Sri Lanka.
“The facts are ignored by officials. Most multinationals in Sri Lanka are owned by Indians or have their headquarters based in India.
60,000 Indians now work in Sri Lanka, it will become millions,” Kumarasinghe said.
He further added that spouses and children of such persons would automatically be allowed to reside in Sri Lanka.
However, Hayleys Group Senior Economist Deshal De Mel who had engaged in the CEPA negotiations during his past posting at the Institute of Policy Studies did not express any distress, saying that stringent qualification criteria were placed on the clause, which would have to be further increased in future negotiations to match the improving human capital needs of Sri Lanka.
However, Dr. de Silva agreed with Kumarasinghe over the number of Indian CEOs who were working in Sri Lanka, as Kumarasinghe pointed out that there have recently been events hosted by an “Indian CEO’s Forum”.
“If Indians are already doing it without CEPA, having rules and a framework on it would be good,” Dr. de Silva spoke about addressing the issue within the agreement.
He, along with De Mel and LIRNEasia Founding Chairman and CEO Professor Rohan Samarajiva were of a consensus that having Indian companies set their operations up in Sri Lanka would lead to more employment opportunities for locals.
Dr. de Silva reiterated the need to negotiate the agreement in favourable terms.
“If we say no, we might hurt ourselves, but we can’t just say yes either. We will see how best we can negotiate an agreement that benefits us,” he said. (CW)
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