Bilateral trade needs to be revived first, before moving for such trade mechanisms as FTAs when it comes to trade with the virgin market of Palestinian Territories. "FTA with the Palestinian Territories is a good idea but with non-existent trade at present, it is too early for it" said Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen.
Minister Bathiudeen was speaking to Ms Mai Bakry, presenter of "Palestine TV" on March 07 in Colombo when he was interviewed for the channel.
"Sri Lanka has entered into a new economic development phase thanks to President Mahinda Rajapoaksa. We are now a lower middle income country focusing to develop as a commercial hub in this region. Sri Lanka and the State of Palestine are maintaining very cordial relations over the years. The recent visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Palestine has further enhanced and strengthened relations between the two countries" Minister Bathiudeen said, introducing Sri Lankan economy to Palestinian viewers. "However, bilateral trade, between the two countries is low and almost negligible. This shows that there is very strong unrealised trade potential at both ends" Minister Bathiudeen added.
Sri Lanka’s total trade with Palestine Territories stood at $ 0.02 Mn in 2010. Thereafter the values fell to almost negligible amounts.
When asked by Bakry on current bilateral trade reality, Minister Bathiudeen responded: "The export values are very low at only $ 0.02 Mn! No imports from Palestine. Our exports to Palestine are only some yarn and vegetable oil."
When asked by Bakry on the potentials for FTAs with Palestine Territories, Minister Bathiudeen responded: "FTA? There is a need to work to enhance bilateral trade and business. FTA with the Palestinian Territories is a good idea no doubt but with non-existent trade at present between our countries, it is too early for it."
On practical steps to revive trade, Minister Bathiudeen said: "In view of the low trade, during my meeting with Dr. Ms. Khuloud Daibes, Palestinian Minister of Tourism, in April 2012 in Colombo, I expressed our country’s interest to create a "Sri Lanka - Palestine Joint Investment Forum" to increase bilateral trade. I believe that we can work to establish such a mechanism which is a promising starting point for both partners."
Explaining the investment opportunities in Sri Lanka for Palestinian investors, Minister Bathiudeen said: "There are many opportunities in Sri Lanka for Palestinian business community, in diverse sectors for trade and investment. Opportunities are also, available under the Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement and Pakistan-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement. Also, I stress tourism. Middle Eastern tourists including from Palestine, are now more and more aware about Sri Lanka than before. We invite the Palestinian business delegation, to visit Sri Lanka to explore the opportunities available for them. My ministry will provide all the support and assistance to investors from Palestine. 100% ownership for, Palestinian investments also ensured. Palestinian investments in Sri Lanka are guaranteed by the constitution as well."