By Sarath Wijesinghe –
Ruler is only a Trustee of a Nation and there is every reason to be cautious in dealing with the rest of the world on behalf of the country in trust- especially when the previous experiences have shown adverse results for not being cautious. Sri Lankan Kings did business with the rest of the world when the visitors voyaged this beautiful Island in the Indian Ocean via “SEDA MAWATHA” the famous traditional naval route, from Mediterranean, Persia, China, East Asia, India and the west on the emergence of the naval power. Kings allowed Muslims to erect mosques, Christians to build Churches, but the biggest mistake committed by them was to permit Portuguese, Dutch to have a permanent trade opportunity which has led British to conquer Sri Lanka who bluntly violated the 1815 Convention entered into with the Sri Lankan chieftains surrendered the Independent Sri Lanka to British to be a British Colony. Had they been cautious we would remain a unique and independent Nation which is a lesson for the future.
International Agreements are binding, subject to decisions of the World Court, Arbitrations, Regional Organizations and more importantly the agreements of the international community based on the reputation in the absence of a World Executive Body. Reality is the survival of the fittest who is powerful in the world community on the implementation. It is sad but true to state that Sri Lanka has been failures and at the receiving end in terms of entering into and implementing international agreements since flowed 1815 Convention which is still in force unimplemented, hurriedly signed, 2002 ceasefire Agreement when we had the opportunity for a less harmful document with the impact of 9/11, also hurriedly signed Indu Sri Lanka accord of 1987 that forced Sri Lanka for Provincial Councils which are white elephants today, clamping on us on a regional foreign policy and series of agreements since Independence with WTO, UN and connected institution including IMF, countries and international institutions on various fields. Successive governments and rulers have arbitrarily and hap-hazedly entered into arbitrary and incomplete agreements of no quality, except “Sirima- Srisathi” Pact on stateless citizens of Indian origin that was amicably settled on equal terms due to the excellent relations Sri Lanka had with India due to excellent foreign policy and foreign relations then which are classic examples to the modern Trustees. Madam Sirima Bandaraneike maintained excellent relationships with Prime Minister Indra Gandi that led to many agreements on equal terms benefiting both countries. Mrs Bandaranaike – the first world women Prime Minister had a battery of excellent and dedicated foreign officers at the foreign Ministry then. These memorable events are merely pleasant memories for us and materials for historians. Today tables have turned and one wonders whether we in fact have a foreign policy, and who manages when three main leaders on Foreign Policy among the Trustees are giving different versions and views on the same subject on CEPA, ICTA and Foreign Policy. They do not speak with one word. Their public speeches are part of International Law in terms of the implementation of foreign policy.
Preparation of agreements should be given time, space, and vetting by groups of competent/committed intellectuals whilst conceding that we have few competent experienced and knowledgeable lawyers/professionals/ government servants in the State, Ministry, and in private practice. We have educated and competent Sri Lankans round the Globe prepared/awaiting offering assistance and the Foreign Ministry will have to take the initiative to mobilize them for their Nation. There should be constitutional provisions for the preparation and implementation of International Instruments to study and approve before entering into agreements. It is time to revive and restructure the existing International Instruments not up to the standard. Drafters of the new constitution will consider introducing a system of grating approval by a committee or a body of international lawyers and government servants.
Why Sri Lankans Fear India On The Proposed ECTA?
ECTA is to be introduced in place of CEPA which is a failed, inactive, and unsuccessful International Agreement with India entered into during Chandrika/Ranil regime 2003. Free Trade Agreement that was signed with India in 1998 operating for 15 years in favour of India where India exported USD4023 million worth goods to Sri Lanka when Sri Lanka exported only 625 USD million worth goods India. Fortunately, no service sector is involved though now large number and sectors of Indian Labour is illegally employed in Colombo and superbs with a grave future threat. Government says ECTA is only a framework agreement for further negotiations. What we have left to negotiate and what we can offer is minimal and limited considering the ground situation. Why do we need the framework when BOI is functioning well is a matter one cannot understand? Once we sign the framework we are bound to be pressurized by India to mussel and implement the rest. We cannot export tea as there is a ban on tea to India. Coconut and Rubber is in short supply and any way Sri Lanka has a better market in Europe. We import red chilly in bulk from india without encouraging our own products learning from small but giant agriculturalists in the dry Middle East. We were exporting “Karunka” imported from Indonesia and “Vnaspathi” made out of Palm oil imported from Malaysia using the trade facility which is now banned. India is self-sufficient in garments and employment facilities in India is nil with their unemployment and underemployment exceeding twice the Sri Lankan population when 3 million applications receiving for 335 vacancies for office clerical jobs. Then what have we got to export to India rather than importing cars, buses, lorries, machinery, Medical drugs /equipment, and various items in bulk with the money generated by our earnings in the middle East. India is struggling with only 50% toilet facilities to citizens with low income low salaries and per capita income far below Sri Lanka. We have bitter memories of keeping a blind eye on using the Indian soil and the facilities given to world known separatist movement during our difficult era when the Giant Neighbour stepped in in full force to entered into the 1987 Indo – Lanka Accord with provisions for regional security favouring India in the international arena through the instrument. Therefore, there are reasons for Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans to be cautious. We expect foreigners to invest on products send export to India and other countries. What facilities we offer and are we prepared politically and streamlining the ground situation are questions to be answered with the time frame. Best is to harp on what we know and what we have historically experienced – AGRICULTURE.
Raping The Sri Lankan Sea
Illegal, fishing, poaching, bottom trawling, and raping the seabed is rampant and uncontrolled. Indian Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers visiting Sri Lanka either evades the issue or our Trustees are not taking this matter serious due to reasons we cannot understand. Indi Sri Lanka Joint Commission (best opportunity) have not taken this issue which is important to Sri Lanka and not so to India as they are the beneficiaries of this ongoing international dispute. Iceland took the Superpower – UK and NATO to the International Court on illegal fishing in the common sea which is now under control. But it is doubtful whether Sri Lanka is willing or competence, considering the dead silence on “PARIPPUE” issue when India forcibly dropped food items from the air threatening Sri Lanka to negotiate. Foreign Minister of Sri Lankans has stated not to be “paranoid” on illegal fishing, pooching and raping the seabed when our fish is destroyed by armies of trawlers forcefully entering Sri Lankan territory for fishing.
Education agritcultire and Technology
It is true that we should not live in isolation and keep pace with the modern trends and fast developments in the world. But is advisable to think before you leap and be cautious based on previous bad and bitter experiences on entering into international agreements. Sri Lankans were no good traders historically cheated by many from time to time, but are world renewed agriculturists with a great history on irrigation systems unpatrolled. India seeks assistance from Israel on Agritcultire and Technology. We too have excellent relations with Israel – a world leader on agritcultire with 15 Nobel prizes and using agriculture based technology based on 95% technology. India produces Bombay Onions, Potato, and number of agritcultire products at the lowest price to compete with Sri Lankan products even after paying heavy taxes. India has no fully fledged Education system but a mixture of English technology and information technology. Therefore, ideally we must have closer cooperation with Indi’s on agritcultire based items, technology and education which will help both countries equally, with Israel as a partner.
Protectionism and Economic Nationalism
There are continuous attacks of Sri Lankans being paranoid, on protectionism and Economic Nationalism which is practised even in the United Kingdom, Europe India and many parts of the world in protecting their industries business and citizens. “Manchi” Biscuits and many other Sri Lankan enterprises attempted to set up industries in India and given up due to protectionism. India has banned tea and many other items and industries in their huge market and the economy is open to the world gradually/steadily and with grave/great caution. European Union has restrictions on investments by outsiders and United Kingdom too has severe restrictions on outside investors though international agreements that are in favour are in force. Therefore, we have all the reasons to be economically protected in dealing with the rest of the world including the immediate neighbour with many unresolved issues and unfair to call traitors who are genuinely voicing on genuine fears of future dangers which are irreparable and disastrous.
There is no hurry at all and do not give into pressure – Do not loose temper- be steady and yet Friendly-Do not pressurize the intelligent citizens, media and the national minded Business Community.
Please do not be in a hurry. Let us first settle the immediate issues on FTA, CEPA, SAFTA and the issue of Illegal fishing and poaching. We have all the time in the world left as we are doing much better than the ambitious giant neighbour struggling to maintain regional supremacy. We are still a welfare nation giving free education and health care to all with lowest mortality rates and less unemployment. We are grateful to the great neighbour for sharing great religions, culture and friendship from time immemorial and let us support them to be a regional and a world power and help each other while maintaining our identity safety and integrity as a senior member in the world family. Be cautious and listen to the people concerned and media who are far above us in decision making. Attitude of the Trustees to bulldozing the proposed agreement in dispute will have a short and long irreparable impact will be disastrous and dangerous. This is not the theory of “KING LICHCHIVE”