Fearing political pressure, Sri Lanka president wants to avoid trade integrations with India

Amid fears of a growing cold war between India and China within the country, Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe wants to avoid any trade integration with India or any other South Asian nation after some bitter lessons in the past.

When he was in power in the past two decades, he attempted to have greater trade and comprehensive economic partnership with India, However, his attempts met with strong opposition by politically motivated trade unions and center-left political-party led oppositions amid false propaganda.

Since the end of a nearly three-decade war in 2009, Sri Lankan leaders have struggled to balance between India and China.

Beijing’s willingness to invest in Sri Lanka’s infrastructure has been frowned upon by India amid an intensifying cold war with India in Sri Lankan territory as China’s influence in Sri Lanka is seen as a security threat to the Indian Ocean.

Colombo-based political analysts say India is increasingly agitated over rising Chinese presence in the South Asian island nation just a few miles from the World’s second largest democracy.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think you will see trade integration with South Asian region,” Wickremesinghe told an economic forum on Friday.

“There will have to be bilateral agreement with whoever we want. There is too much of politics involved for there to be a regional trade agreement in South Asia,” he said without naming India which has encouraged Colombo for broader economic corporation deals including Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and Economic And Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) in the past.

His efforts to go for such greater economic partnership have brought him political defeat at elections in the past.

“So we can keep that aside. We can have integration in dancing, we can have integration in cooking. but certainly we are not going to have integration as far as the economy is concerned.”

Instead, President Wickremesinghe wants other countries including nations from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as well as the West and Africa.

“We have to look at ASEAN and RCEP. That’s a growing market. It’s a big market and the income levels are much higher. So let’s look at it,” he told an audience including the country’s top corporate leaders.

“Later on you can look at Africa – East Africa specially. We must keep our economic relationship with Europe and UK that is looking for a role as a Global Britain. So I think Sri Lanka can easily get closer and better relationship with UK. Then we get on to the US itself.”

Wickremesinghe’s latest comments come as India has raised security concerns over an arrival of a Chinese military ship to Sri Lanka’s Chinese-controlled Hambantota port.

Since coming to power through a parliament vote, Wickremesinghe is in the process of formulating a new foreign policy to avoid geopolitical issues from both India and China, his close allies have told EconomyNext.

Source: Economy Next