The first-ever Sri Lanka-Belarus official trade talks commenced in Colombo yesterday amidst avowed assertions from both sides towards forging sustainable trade links while making inroads to the huge ‘New Asian’ and upcoming Eurasian Union markets. The first Colombo talks have now paved the way for a prospective future visit of the President of Belarus to Sri Lanka.
“I am pleased to note that Belarus is Sri Lanka’s first gateway to the promising EEU new single market. Our Free Trade Agreements with Pakistan and India have opened gateways to a South Asian market of 1.2 billion. Equally important is Sri Lanka’s forthcoming FTA with China. Therefore, we invite you to partner with Sri Lanka and take advantage of the new Asian opportunity,” said Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen on 9 July in Colombo.
Bathiudeen was addressing the opening session of the first Sri Lanka-Belarus Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation that commenced at Taj Hotel, Colombo on 9 July. The two-day session will conclude on 10 July, and will see the participation of Republic of Belarus Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Valentin B. Rybakov sitting in sessions throughout.
For this historic trade meet, Deputy Minister Rybakov arrived in Sri Lanka on 8 July leading a 20-member plus Belarus delegation. For technical sessions, Sri Lanka’s side is led by Ministry of Industry and Commerce Secretary Anura Siriwardena while Belarus’ team is led by Deputy Minister Rybakov.
Representing Sri Lanka at the opening session of 9 July were Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce Lakshman Wasantha Perera, Ministry of Industry and Commerce Secretary Anura Siriwardena, Department of Commerce Director General R.D.S. Kumararatne, EDB Chairman/CEO Bandula Egodage, top officials from EDB and Department of Commerce, 28 other Lankan representatives from Ministries of External Affairs, Plantation, Fisheries, Agriculture, Coconut Development, Economic Development (including BoI and Tourist Board) and the Tea Board. Also present were Lankan private sector reps including reps from business chambers.
Along with visiting Deputy Minister Rybakov, also in the Belarus delegation were Delhi-based Belarus Ambassador for Sri Lanka Vitaly Prima, Maya Rusetkaya (Belarus Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and reps from Minsk Tractor Works, RUE Belmedpreparaty, Promagroleasing , Minsk Automobile Plant, Caravan, Minsk Department of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Belarusian National Technical University and Vitebsk State Medical University.
“Sri Lanka and Belarus have been enjoying warm and cordial relations over the years based on mutual respect and shared values and I have no doubts that today’s event would bring the ongoing cooperation efforts to a new level,” said Bathiudeen, addressing the session.
“The visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Belarus in August 2013 is a clear sign of Sri Lanka’s desire to build upon the already existing relations so that closer ties are forged. I am given to understand that Belarus is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) which is scheduled to come into effect on 1 January 2015. From January 2015, it is expected that EEU will create a single economic market of 171 million people. As Your Excellency is aware, Sri Lanka is a middle income emerging market economy. The Government’s objective is to make Sri Lanka a global hub. Out of the total of 231 exports destinations of Sri Lanka in 2013, Belarus ranked as the 77th export destination and it is interesting to note that it has progressed from its lower rank of 81 in 2011. Less than 1%, that is 0.05%, of our total exports are taken by Belarus. This shows that Belarus is still a virgin market for us with potentials.
“As for our bilateral trade, the total trade between both countries stood at $ 14.24 million in 2013. In 2012, Sri Lanka was at the 69th rank among the countries which are exporting to Belarus. These facts show that there is huge unrealised trade potentials between both countries that we jointly need to make use of. Sri Lanka offers more than 3,520 export products for your importers and today we invite you to select from our expanding basket of products.
To this end, the Agreements on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Prevention of Fiscal Evasions between Belarus and Sri Lanka signed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko in August 2013 can greatly help in improving bilateral trade. We are also invite investors from Belarus to partner with Sri Lanka and invest in more than 50 readymade investment projects offered by our Government.
“In this background, investing in Sri Lanka to re-export is a promising option for investors from Belarus. Our Free Trade Agreements with Pakistan and India have opened gateways to a South Asian market of over 1.2 billion people. Equally important is Sri Lanka’s forthcoming FTA with China. Therefore we invite you to partner with Sri Lanka and take advantage of the ‘new Asian opportunity’.”
Addressing the opening session, Republic of Belarus Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Valentin B. Rybakov said: “We always attach great significance to JEC sessions that we have with foreign countries. You are absolutely correct in saying bilateral trade levels between Belarus and Sri Lanka are practically negligible. As a result, the (unrealised) trade potential is huge. Belarus views Sri Lanka as an emerging trade partner and a very important partner in the South Asian region. We are definitely interested in establishing long-term cooperation with Sri Lanka in various areas. For us it is vital to diversify our trade and economic relations with the world.
“This part of the world – South Asia – is a very, very important region as it is becoming the global economic driver – especially when you say about a common market of billions of people and this sounds incredible to Belarus, which is a small country. Belarus is also part of the new Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). As you are aware we are supplying you with potash fertiliser and we are keen to expand our support in this. We are also interested in supporting other agricultural areas/sectors since Belarus is one of the countries that ensure total food security to its people. Therefore we can help you in agriculture too.
“We can also definitely help in industrial matters – we are happy that we already started practical work in setting up a tractor assembly facility in Sri Lanka. We will also continue our cooperation in education. As you know there are sizeable numbers of Lankan students in Belarus. We like to have more Lanka students. This session of the JE commission is a result of President Rajapaksa’s visit to Belarus in 2013. We will try to arrange a return visit to Sri Lanka by our Head of State. The agreements that can be reached by this two-day session will help us in formulating this return visit by our Head of State.”