The Indian High Commissioner Y.K. Sinha’s stricture on the joint opposition’s Prof. G. L. Peiris and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to have elevated the debate on the proposed Economic and Technological Agreement (ETCA) to a different level.
Pressure was building against the agreement from different quarters during the past few months, but the debate took a different approach as critics compared the High Commissioner’s admonition to another instance of India’s high-handedness, mainly experienced during the 1980s.
Already, the joint opposition which is virtually the Mahinda Rajapaksa group of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) has chided the High Commissioner even calling for his deportation forthwith. The joint opposition’s anti- ETCA sentiments have been exacerbated at a time when the Government is trying to harness public support to proceed with the signing of the ETCA. The Government says it is an agreement beneficial to the local economy, especially by way of generating employment opportunities through trade and investment to achieve its ambitious target of creating one million jobs in the country over a period.
Yet, the High Commissioner’s remarks will be a hitch to garner public support for the ETCA at a time it is needed most.
The ETCA debates goes on, with Sri Lankan exporters harping on non- traffic barriers encountered in trading with India under the provisions of the Free Trade Agreement signed way back in 1998. They stress the need to address such shortcomings first before striking any further trade arrangement with India. Against this backdrop, the Indian authorities had arranged a workshop with the participation of their experts with local partners on matters of concern related to trade.
The workshop discussed import tariffs and other duties and charges applicable to internationally traded goods, regulations, including licensing requirements for animal, plant and other food products, product testing and compliance assessment process , customs procedures and trade facilitation -national and provincial requirements and mechanisms for information sharing, grievance handling and appeal processes on international trade.
Sri Lankan exporters remain concerned that agreements reached with the central government of India do not work in different states of that country. They also grapple with different market restrictions, quarantine issues and cargo handling cases at Indian ports.
According to the communique issued by the Industry and Commerce Ministry after the event, the designated Indian delegation had comprised officials from the Bureau of Indian Standards, Central Board of Excise and Customs, Food Safety Standards Authority of India, Plant and Livestock Quarantine and Directorate General of Foreign Trade. Approximately 250 participants representing Sri Lankan exporters and chambers and officials from the trade related regulatory institutions participated in the event.
Despite issues raised by the Sri Lankan side, the Indian authorities were of the view that Sri Lankan exporters were not adequately complying with the standards, rules and regulations applicable to respective products.
Therefore, the statement says the workshop and the ensuing interchange and exchange of information succeeded in making the Sri Lankan exporter community more cognizant of the relevant rules and regulations applicable to Indian imports in order to avoid misunderstandings and ensure the smooth flow of trade with India. Currently, Sri Lanka exports $0.6 billion worth of goods to India while importing more than $ 4 billion worth of goods from India.
All in all, it seems that a lot of challenges lie ahead in evolving this agreement and signing it.
Deposed SLFPers to fight back
After 23 electoral organisers of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) were removed and replaced with loyalists of its present leader President Maitripala Sirisena, the deposed organisers have decided to call for the meetings of their respective electoral organisations to protest the move.
An electoral organisation commonly known as Asana Bala Mandala consists of party representatives from the Grama Seva Divisions of the constituency concerned. First, it was MP Prasanna Ranatunga who convened the meeting of his Minuwangoda electoral organisation in the Gampaha district and resolved to disengage from SLFP politics as long as the present leadership remains.
Similar organisations of some other electorates where organisers were replaced would follow suit. The trend could lead to a showdown among the factions of the SLFP. It is learnt that such actions challenging the SLFP hierarchy, would be done in electorates such as Senkadagala in the Kandy district and Maharagma in the Colombo district.
Internal squabbles have worsened within the party even with its members attempting to get involved in physical brawls in some cases. At the recent Central Committee meeting, former MP Olitha Premathiratna braced for assaulting Rajapaksa loyalist Kumara Welgama. The quick intervention of MP C.B. Ratnayake and Minister Mahinda Amaraweera prevented the two from trading blows.
New Secretary to UPFA
After a lapse of one year, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), the political amalgam led by Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) had its Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday evening to decide on the secretary post that fell vacant following the death of Prof. Wiswa Warnapala.
President Maitripala Sirsena is also the head of the UPFA by virtue of his being the leader of SLFP. He announced that he intended to nominate Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera to the post.
“If there is objection by anyone, it can be raised,” he reportedly told the meeting. Then, MP Dinesh Gunawardane who is the leader of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) asked whether the President made this nomination on behalf of the SLFP.
The President had said yes, and that was the end of the matter. The UPFA constitution clearly stipulates that the SLFP, as its dominant ally, has the discretion to keep the secretary and national organiser posts of the front. Besides, the SLFP leader virtually becomes the leader of the UPFA.
The three other allies – MEP, Sri Lanka Mahajana Party and Desavimukthi Janatha Party- have no say in this exercise. Alongside, 51 per cent of the members of the executive committee are also from the SLFP in accordance with the UPFA constitution.
Dinesh worries why LG polls are delayed
Nonetheless, Mr. Gunawardane raised objections to the delay in conducting the local authorities’ elections. He requested the President to initiate action in this direction before March 31. The President cited practical issues involved in conducting the election shortly, and asked subject Minister Faizer Mustapha to brief the meeting on the matter.
The small allies of the UPFA were not convinced by the minister’s briefing. Afterwards, the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party took up the fertiliser issue faced by paddy farmers in all the agricultural areas.
CBK back in UPFA Affairs
Towards the end of the meeting, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga walked into the room. Soon after she relinquished the Presidency after the end of her term in 2005, and Mahinda Rajapaksa took over, she was hardly involved in UPFA affairs. But she is back in the UPFA. Upon arrival, she was assigned a seat next to President Sirisena, and Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake who was quick to mention that she had become a member of the UPFA executive committee with immediate effect.
In fact, the UPFA was formed during her time as a front that even included the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) at that time. She declared a snap general election in 2004 after forming the UPFA. The UPFA, led by her, defeated the then United National Party (UNP) government.
MR to appear in public political rallies
The joint opposition which is in fact the Mahinda Rajapaksa group of the UPFA decided to have a major rally in Colombo on March 17. The leaders of the joint opposition met at the residence of former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris on Tuesday, and discussed logistical arrangements for the rally to be attended by Mr. Rajapaksa.
It means Mr. Rajapaksa is slated to attend a political rally for the first time after the general election last year.