In the face of opposition by certain groups against the proposed Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement (ETCA), the government is hoping to sign several bilateral economic and trade agreements with Asian countries from next year.
According to sources, apart from the discussions already underway with China and Singapore to sign economic and trade agreements, the government is now setting its sights on Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to explore the possibility of Free Trade Agreements with these countries.
“Discussions will kick off next year,” the source said.
“We are also looking at an economic cooperation programme with Japan, because the government’s ultimate aim is to make Sri Lanka the hub in the region,” he said.
The source noted that the agreements will also pave way for increased employment opportunity in the country, in its pledge to provide one million new jobs for Sri Lankans.
The government’s initiative also comes in the backdrop of China taking the lead to promote Colombo as South Asia’s hub through the Colombo International Financial City which was formerly known as the Colombo Port City.
The new bilateral agreements however come at a juncture when the government has still not educated the public on the contents of ETCA, which has been facing stiff resistance from professional groups including doctors and IT professionals.
In August, Minister of International Trade Malik Samarawickrama told a news conference that the ETCA will be signed before the end of 2016. The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) however claimed that the ETCA will pave way for Indian professionals to come to Sri Lanka for jobs, which will jeopardize job opportunities for Sri Lankans. However, Samarawickrama assured that the government will not allow any foreigners to infiltrate the local job market, unless under special cases.