20 June, 2024


Ranil’s ECTA-Moves An Avatar Of Old Style UNP Ways?

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was spot on when chided those who are raising a hue and cry about the proposed Economic and Technology Cooperative Agreement (ETCA) with India. His point was simple: how can you object to something that does not exist? Correct. There’s no ETCA. Yet.

That’s the catch. Yet. And it works both ways. The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Harsha de Silva responding to those who have expressed various concerns about ECTA has affirmed his Prime Minister’s position. However, he has thought fit to comment on possible content. De Silva chose to focus on the issue of whether or not Indian IT professionals could open up businesses in Sri Lanka and thereby post a threat to local IT professionals. He points out that three of the four modes of the international service trade are already in operation in Sri Lanka but that the fourth, ‘the presence of a natural person’ is not under discussion.

All good. But all beside the point. And this holds for all the lovely ‘don’t-worry’ statements coming from Government spokespersons on matters relating to trade and other relations between India and Sri Lanka.

Ranil WickFirst of all, if objection, as the Prime Minister correctly points out, is out of order considering the (as yet) non-existence of an agreement, then defense is as silly. Now as the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and one who has told us that the thrust of foreign policy as far as this government is concerned is ‘economic diplomacy,’ De Silva certain should be privy to what’s being discussed. However, if free and fair discussion is important, then you can’t have some people tossing stones from behind a wall at others who are by definition unarmed.

It’s the secrecy of the whole thing that is of immense concern. As of now, it’s all hush-hush. We cannot have a situation where on the one hand the government talks of a democratic climate of discussion and consensus building while it keeps deals with foreign governments under cover. We were told, after all, that the Rajapaksa-past of mega-deals behind closed-doors was buried once and for all. We would love to believe that it was not all empty rhetoric for purposes of securing political power, despite the cynicism that this government has invited due to many acts of omission and commission.

The other problem is the fact that this is an agreement with India. India, a relatively new nation that came into being only in 1858 courtesy the Government of India Act passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom (21 & 22 Vict. C. 106), is essentially a nation-wannabe political entity that poses off as a superpower-wannabe one. India claims to be ‘shining’, but on all counts India is dull. It is a struggling nation. Sri Lanka is certainly not ‘shining’, this is true, but if we are beggarly, it is silly to thrust hand out at a fellow mendicant.

Yes, the option is China, but that’s another story. Related, but different. Suffice to say that for all the anti-Rajapaksa noises made by India, the USA, UK and other ‘big countries’ on account of the previous regime’s alleged China-leanings, some of them would sink if not for China. India’s debt is not owned by China, unlike the debts of the USA and UK, but India is not doing great either.

And there’s history. A history of India meddling in the affairs of Sri Lanka. There’s the whole story of supporting terrorism with arms, money and training (before the idea backfired). Then there’s the Indo-Lanka Agreement. That’s important and relevant because it was thrust down Sri Lanka’s throat. No discussion. No entertainment of query. The then government submitted meekly. The people had to pay a heavy price.

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s involvement in that hush-hush affair was damning. He presented the bill in part to Parliament. His preference for the hush-hush was more openly demonstrated on February 22, 2002, when he signed the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with the terrorist leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. It is amusing that some people still argue that the CFA was the catalyst for the split in the LTTE (Karuna-Faction breaking away) and on the basis of this claim that Ranil paved the way for the defeat of the LTTE. Only the half-blind and diehard loyalist would indulge in that kind of reductionism. What ensued was not amusing. The LTTE regrouped, recruited, re-trained and re-armed. The people had to pay for Ranil’s ‘innocence’ (let’s be kind here).

But what is so wrong (and so relevant in these ECTA-talking times) is the hush-hush nature in which the CFA was signed. Ranil’s cabinet hadn’t seen the document. The then President hadn’t seen it. It was not ‘up for discussion’. Its constitutionality was not raised. It was hush-hush.

ECTA is not an agreement like the Indo-Lanka Accord or the CFA of course, but the secrecy of the affair does nothing to alleviate doubts about claims about benefits to Sri Lanka. What we know is that India hasn’t been Sri Lanka’s best friend. We saw India’s ‘friendship’ in the eighties. We saw India’s ‘friendship’ at the UNHRC sessions. India offers aid, but it has always come with a price tag. And it’s paltry compared to what the country has received from China and Japan. Of course, bilateral agreements are not about love but about business, this we know. However, when there are conditions that clearly seek to tinker with constitution, it’s even more difficult to digest. India is like that. Give a little, take a lot; build a few kilometers of road, build a few houses, and expect us to go overboard with gratitude. Take China out of the equation, replace with India, and it will take India centuries to help us ‘develop’.

The Prime Minister knows what the last secret deal with India cost us. To be fair, this ECTA thing might do us a whole lot of good, but keeping it hush and worse, getting the likes of De Silva to offer convoluted defense, is bad.

The other pertinent issue is the history of such hush-hush agreements.

Perhaps the Prime Minister could sort it all out by saying something on the following lines.

“Don’t worry. Once the draft is ready, we will put it before the people for scrutiny. Let the criticism be comprehensive. Let the discussions be lengthy. A quick signing will not take place. We will be transparent. We will be patient. We will in thought, word and action, affirm all the principles of good governance. There is no ECTA, but there could be. However, we are open to the possibility that we may err and as such we might never have an ECTA or its equivalent.”

Let us see.

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Latest comments

  • 7

    I often find it difficult to buy Malinda’s argument as he constantly goes against establishing credibility through his narrow and often misguided interpretation of history. For example, he places the blame on the LTTE’s regrouping squarely on Ranil here. Yet I quote another perspective from DBSJ last week:

    “Chandrika in her bid to topple Ranil’s Government in 2002 used Armed Forces officials who were close to her. It became easier as those officers opposed the peace efforts initiated by Ranil. In reality, the war had been jumbled by the top ranks in the Armed Forces in command at that time. The Armed Forces had lost many camps to the LTTE and were in a weak position, while the LTTE was in a strong position.

    It was Chandrika who appealed to Norway to come forward as a mediator. What Ranil’s Government did was to get Norway’s assistance to initiate the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in order to bide time to strengthen the Armed Forces which were in a weak condition. That was why Velupillai Prabhakaran in his Matyrs Day speech in 2003 claimed that the CFA only helped the government’s troops to strengthen themselves. On the contrary Chandrika incited military officials close to her in the bid to topple Ranil’s Government.”


    If the LTTE managed to regroup and rearm themselves, it’s because the commanders of the forces at that time were not utilizing the intelligence and border patrol machinery efficiently, not because of the ceasefire. The ceasefire did not relax or release the Navy from their duties in manning the maritime borders, and it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine that the LTTE used weapons manufactured at home. As such, rather than constantly blaming Ranil, I suggest Malinda shift his attention to the then president and the military bungling at that time. Why does he not blame Ranil for not being signatory to the Rome Statute then? Oh wait, if he had been, then Malinda’s beloved Mahinda would have been in the ‘electric chair’ by now.

  • 2

    Well said!!!

    When Buddhism came to Sri Lanka 2,500 years ago, Lankans evolved to shiny new race (vis-à-vis Indians). The ETCA will surely kill the Lankan buoyancy.

    • 4

      Lankans are not a “race,” which, in itself, is a construct of convenience and has no scientific basis. It is scientifically proven, through the use of DNA and also through an analysis of the history of the concept that there is no genetic or biological basis for race.

      It is also scientifically proven that humans are 2 chromosomes away from chimpanzees. Some display this kinship less, others more. Ramona Therese Fernando, for example, appears closer to our primate ancestors in her pattern of thinking.

  • 3

    Yes Malinda, you are absolutely correct. UNP is not giving out lap tops! Remember you got one from Rajapakse!

  • 0

    Never believe this man. He became a PM through back door, so he does things back door. I bet, without allience with other parties UNP will never ever win an election or come to power.

  • 0

    “The other pertinent issue is the history of such hush-hush agreements.

    Perhaps the Prime Minister could sort it all out by saying something on the following lines.”

    Come on mate. Where were you when Rajapaksas signed off a lot of agreements (well, whatever that means) with China and other wonderful countries? Government has been paying credit card level interest rates.

    Rajapakse lackeys should remember that people who raised similar questions in the Rajapakse era were beaten up, tortured or killed.

  • 0

    Oh Ranil, Ranil, I thought of writing few lines for you before the big match, because the weeks to follow I might not be in my right mind.
    Food for thought for you sir, it was this famous “PANCHA MAHA BALA WEGE” SANGA,GURU WEDA,GOVI, KAMKARU that brought the SWRD Bandaranayake in to power in 1958,creating the SLFP as formidable front. Is it a co-incident that the same 5 BALA WEGE that you are now trying to hunt down.? I feel you need to really re-think your power play before offering the Government on a platter, back to the opposition. SLFP.
    You have unnecessarily, gone to re-write discipline books for the Buddhist Monks, taking the doctors head on, Farmers are protesting and in pain as you have not delivered what was promised,Teachers are up in arms for Education ministry drawbacks headed by one of your blue eyed ministers. Labour( kamkaru) will be up in arms when the EPF/ETF and many other matters are meddled with.
    Sir please do the first things first.. starting with economy, jobs,turning all wrong things to right and all what you have promised in your manifesto. Your friends and close associates may not be the best of support for you at this moment.They will all be gone again,When you lose next.

  • 0

    I will make two comments that bear on Malinda’s piece(very well written as always) only tangentially. His focus is on Ranil and on India; my focus is on Lanka and the need for international investment and technology cooperation in the general or generic sense.

    I state my arguments without supporting reasons because the reasoning will appear in my piece in two days time – Sunday 6th.

    1. Given Lanka’s severe budgetary, balance of payments and debt constraints, and given that the ability of local capitalism to raise domestic savings and investment have proved abysmal, IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT LANKA ACTIVELY EXPLORES AVENUES OF FOREIGN INVESTMENT, INCLUDING WITH INDIAN CAPITALISTS.

    2. The devil will be in the details. The challenge is to negotiate and structure an agreement that is beneficial to Lanka (trust foreign negotiators, Indian included, to ensure that any Pact is beneficial to their side as well). I BELIEVE THAT MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL INTERNATIONAL INVESTMENT AND TECHNOLOGY DEALS ARE ENTIRELY FEASIBLE.

  • 0

    Kumar David
    Yes. “The devil will be in the details.”
    The point is who writes in the “details”?

    We had a free trade agreement with India. How did it perform?
    We can learn from History, I suppose.

    • 2


      “We had a free trade agreement with India. How did it perform? “

      Here is a review by India of trade and investment under FTA.

      Could you read the 107 pages document an enlighten us with your concerns.

      Sri Lanka is planning to sign FTA with China. Hopefully you wouldn’t have much worry, because in China we trust.

      Message from the High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka

      India and Sri Lanka enjoy a vibrant and growing economic and commercial partnership, with both trade and investment expanding greatly in recent years. Since the operationalization of the India – Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 2000, trade alone has multiplied by as much as 8 times, crossing the milestone of US$ 5 billion in 2011-12. The FTA has thus proved to be a real engine of growth for bilateral commercial interaction.

      In 2011-12, India’s imports from Sri Lanka went up by almost 45% to cross US$ 720 million, making Sri Lanka the largest source of merchandise from the South Asian region for India. This is a big jump from US$ 45 million imports in 2000-01, when Sri Lanka occupied 4th rank as an import source for India in the region. In fact, Sri Lanka’s exports to India multiplied by over 16 times in this period, while India’s exports to Sri Lanka went up by less than 7 times. There can
      thus be no doubt that the FTA brought significant benefits to both sides, but more to Sri Lanka. It is relevant to note that over 70% of Sri Lanka’s exports to India are covered under the FTA,while only 30% of India’s exports to Sri Lanka avail of the preferential route of the FTA.

      Likewise, top Indian companies have displayed high interest in Sri Lanka, investing in the country across sectors such as infrastructure, manufacturing, services, and construction. The cumulative FDI approvals for Indian investments stand about US$ 1 billion since 2003, with
      investment inflows of US$160 million in 2012. Nearly US$ 2 billion worth of FDI has been committed by Indian companies for the next five years or so.

      The investment flow is by no means one-sided as Sri Lankan companies too are finding opportunities in the large Indian markets, leveraging FTA provisions. In fact, bilateral economic cooperation today extends across multiple areas of engagement, including trade in goods and
      services, tourism, infrastructure, education, science and technology, and agriculture. Air connectivity has gone up manifold and there are about 120 flights a week between Colombo and eight destinations in India; almost one-fifth of tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka is from India.
      The beneficial synergy in bilateral economic relations is best illustrated by the container traffic of Colombo Port, which handles nearly over thirty percent of container transshipment business
      of India; India-linked cargo, in turn, accounts for over three-fourths of the Port’s total container transshipment volume.
      This dynamic economic relationship is set for further expansion. During the visit of Hon. Anand Sharma, Minister of Commerce, Industry & Textiles, Government of India, to Sri Lanka in August 2012, both sides decided to take several key steps to further deepen trade and investment relations, including by focusing on increasing Sri Lanka’s export capacity with promotion of manufacturing of products like automobile parts, engineering products and pharmaceuticals with Indian investment and forging linkages across the production and supply
      chains of the two countries. The two governments have constituted a Joint Task Force to take forward these proposals.

      We have also set for ourselves an ambitious target of doubling bilateral trade to reach US$ 10 billion in next three years. At the eighth meeting of the India-Sri Lanka Joint Commission held
      on 22 January 2013 in New Delhi, we agreed to hold intensive consultations towards forging a special economic partnership for comprehensive economic engagement, taking trade, tourism and investment relations to the next level.

      Despite the evident successes of the FTA, some misperceptions and apprehensions have been expressed, which are largely founded on incomplete information regarding its provisions. This
      ‘Handbook on the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement’ aims at facilitating a better understanding of the close economic and commercial partnership that has resulted between the
      two countries following the entry into force of the FTA. Brought out by the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, in collaboration with the High Commission of India, Colombo, and, this publication offers detailed information for the business community on the sectoral provisions of the FTA so that the benefits available under this landmark agreement can be fully availed of.

      The High Commission of India provides focused services for visiting Indian business delegations and Sri Lankan businessmen, and regularly organizes trade and investment-related activities and events. We hope this publication will prove to be valuable for businesses on both
      sides in leveraging economic opportunities, propelling the trade relationship towards its immediate target of US$ 10 billion in next three years, and also beyond.

      I would like to convey our sincere appreciation to the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka for partnering with us in bringing out this handbook. I would also like to acknowledge the support received from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India.

      Ashok K. Kantha
      High Commissioner of India
      Sri Lanka
      March 2013

      Handbook on the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement


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