In a bid to boost trading activities following the removal of sanctions, Iran yesterday stressed its willingness to enhance bilateral relations with “friendly” Sri Lanka. Calling for increased efforts between the two countries, visiting Iran Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian said, “Sri Lanka is a friendly country and is important to us. I hope we (Iran and Sri Lanka) would take advantage of the newly available opportunities to develop economic and trade cooperation and see the promotion of quantitative and qualitative cooperation.”
The Iranian minister reaffirmed his country’s commitment at the 11th meeting of the Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation (JCEC) between Sri Lanka and Iran in Colombo, which was attended by top government officials from both nations. The 10th session was held in Tehran in 2014.
The JCEC was established at ministerial level in 1987 to strengthen relationships in trade, economic and technical aspects. Chitchian, also the Chairman of the 11th JCEC, expressed confidence in the event paving the way to strengthen bilateral and cultural relationships between the two countries. He also stated the JSEC would aid in identifying new opportunities for investment, increasing commercial relations and removing possible obstacle to promote increased trade between the two countries. Pointing out that Iran gives special attention to all Asian countries, he stressed due emphasis was given to Sri Lanka’s position.
“We are looking to strengthen our promotion with Sri Lanka, particularly the economic, social, energy, training, tourism and health sector areas. Such a momentous goal requires greater use of all available capacities along with the practical implementation of the articles of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two sides,” Chitchian said.
Iran is currently implementing two major projects in Sri Lanka—Uma Oya trans-basin project and electrification of 1000 Lankan villages in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen acknowledged that despite the trade between the two countries improving, the growth was not as steady as expected. “The trade between Sri Lanka and Iran continues to show a positive trend but it is not a steady growth trend.
There is room for strengthening it. You would agree we still stand much below the real potential in our bilateral trade,” Bathiudeen told the Iranian delegation. For the longest period, the balance of trade between the nations was in favour of Iran but since 2013, it has been in favour of Sri Lanka. The year 2008 saw the total trade between the two countries surpassing US $ 1 billion. While it exceeded US $ 1.6 billion in 2011, in 2012 it dipped to US $ 858 million.
It further contracted to a mere US $ 162 million in 2015 due to decrease of imports from Iran amid the economic sanctions on the country. Pointing out that the preferential trade agreement that was finalized in 2004 was not implemented due to various reasons and concerns, Bathiudeen urged the delegation to revisit the same and take appropriate decisions after taking into account the present trading patterns and global trade conditions.