By Shabiya Ali Ahlam
The key stakeholders of the EU-Sri Lanka Trade-Related Assistance Programme yesterday gave the government thumbs up for having taken a “firm” commitment in improving the local trading environment and actively working towards complying with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).
By ratifying the TFA, the island nation pledges in taking a legal commitment to improve the transparency, predictability and efficiency of its cross-border environment.
The acknowledgement of Sri Lanka taking steps in the right direction is noteworthy, given that the country came under harsh criticism by the trading partners for the lack of transparency and predictability, even after the new regime assured good governance in all efforts.
EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka Tung-Lai Margue yesterday commended the government for taking “many” positive steps in implementing the WTO TFA, the need of the hour, as it aims to secure a global
“We are proud to work hand in hand with Sri Lanka and provide technical assistance to the Assistance Project. This project aims to improve Sri Lanka’s inclusive trade-led growth and regional integration to improve the competitiveness of Sri Lanka’s SMEs in regional SAARC and EU markets and steps in the right direction are being taken in a timely manner,” Margue told a workshop in this regard held in Colombo yesterday.
It was stressed that working on the other areas, such as export development, cracking sanitary issues and value chain development and facilitating border operations, is also critical to improve the country’s business environment.
Margue said that to really benefit from the preferential trade agreements, well-functioning border operations are a necessary prerequisite.
“We all stand ready to cooperate but at the end of the day, it is your ownership and good collaboration that will allow the work at hand to be a success,” Margue asserted to the audience that included representatives of the implementing agencies.
The International Trade Centre (ITC), the implementing agency for the EU-Sri Lanka Trade-Related Assistance Programme, too acknowledged and commended Sri Lanka for having already taken the “important” steps towards the implementation of the TFA.
Following the commitment to the WTO, Sri Lanka has established a National TF Committee (NTFC) and a permanent secretariat and this move has been identified as a key component in driving the country towards reform.
The NTFC has developed a detailed action plan for each of the agencies involved in the reform process and has stressed on the steps needed to be taken in a coordinated manner, for Sri Lanka to be compliant with the agreement.
However, ITC Trade Facilitation Advisor Pierre Bonthonneau said that now is the time to take the process one step further.
“No country is in a position to implement such a large process simultaneously. Countries thus need to identify the priorities the reforms needed by the business community to improve its competitiveness. So, Sri Lanka needs to prioritise the reforms needed, so that the local traders are at a competitive advantage. We all acknowledge the need for collaboration and working together,” he said.
The EU-Sri Lanka Trade-Related Assistance Programme is a four-year project funded by the EU and is implemented by the ITC in partnership with the Commerce Department and United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).