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International Trade and Investment Promotions Minister Bandula Gunawardana assuming duties 

  • Strikes moderate tone, says negotiations will continue 
  • Singapore FTA would only be renegotiated if experts committee and SC says so 
  • Promises fresh tax holidays and incentives to investors 
  • Says new measures will be included in Appropriation Bill  
  • Plans to submit Cabinet paper to give special tax cuts to projects approved by  Finance Minister    

By Nuwan Senarathna 

Going back on his earlier rhetoric, International Trade and Investment Promotions Minister Bandula Gunawardana yesterday ruled out revoking any signed free trade deals or stopping ongoing negotiations with trade partners, including India and China, instead siding with a balanced approach beneficial to both countries. 

 Striking a more moderate tone, Gunawardana, after assuming duties, told reporters that even making a change to the Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which was signed in January, would only take place after the experts committee appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena to evaluate the agreement had presented its report and the petition before the Supreme Court is heard.

Former Vice Chancellor of the Colombo University and Emeritus Professor of Economics Prof. W. D. Lakshman was appointed as the Chairman of this five-member committee by Sirisena. 

Gunawardana was a staunch critique of FTA negotiations kicked off by the International Trade and Development Strategies Ministry under the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Cabinet and pledged to end all FTAs if an administration led by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power. 

The Government would only amend trade agreements if policymakers felt it was beneficial for both countries, Gunawardana emphasised. “Whatever we are going to decide, we will only do so after discussing the matter in Cabinet and getting Cabinet approval.”

He was particularly vitriolic of the Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) under negotiation with India, frequently slamming it as an effort to allow foreign migrants to Sri Lanka, despite repeated denials by UNP MP Malik Samarawickrama that this would not be allowed.            

Gunawardana also said that he would work to promote investment by providing a mix of tax holidays and other concessions to potential investors. The main focus would be to handle international trading partners in a “friendly manner to gain support” to boost Sri Lanka’s economy. These incentives would be included in the new Appropriation Bill that could be presented once Parliament reconvenes.  

“We are looking for a way to generate profit for both parties to create a long-lasting relationship and mutual benefits,” he said, adding: “I am expecting to present a Cabinet paper to allow special tax reductions for projects that receive the approval of the Finance Ministry.”

Gunawardena claimed lessons had been learnt by the temporary halting of the Port City project shortly after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed in early 2015 as, in his view, it had created a negative impression of Sri Lanka internationally. He asserted that such sudden decisions would not be taken by the Sirisena-Rajapaksa Cabinet.  

“The decision to halt the Port City project had given a wrong impression of Sri Lanka. Therefore, we would not take such actions on any international trade agreement. I will never take any politically motivated decision and will always inform the President and Prime Minister before taking any decision or action,” he said. 

 “I will not take any decision that affects the country and its economy. Therefore, I will try my best to create a positive picture of the country among the international community.”

Gunawardana said focus would be on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and local producers. “Our definition of the private sector is different from other political parties. We think farmers, SMEs, wholesalers and retail sales are also part of the private sector as they immensely contribute to Sri Lanka’s economy. 

“We are expecting to present an investment program to encourage the local industries in Sri Lanka.”

He also said the time has come to look for new ways to boost the Sri Lankan economy to attract new investments. “We are ready to think out of the box to uplift the Sri Lankan economy.” 

Gunawardana said export processing zones would be introduced throughout the country, including the Northern Province. “With this initiative, we would be able to develop the villages by opening them to international trade.”

Gunawardana criticised that certain Government institutions need to come under the purview of his Ministry. “We need President Maithripala Sirisena to make some changes. The Department of Commerce should be Gazetted under my Ministry. As that Department is formed to develop exports, it has to come under the purview of my Ministry.” 

He also insisted the Sri Lanka Standards Institution should also come under his Ministry’s purview. He plans to submit a written request to President Maithripala Sirisena to Gazette these institutions under the International Trade and Investment Promotion Ministry.  

(Source:http://www.ft.lk/front-page/Bandula-backtracks-on-FTAs/44-666587)

Board of Investments Sri Lanka                    edb                Imports and Exports Control Department                mahapola

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