Russia, SL to boost trade to USD 700 mn, strengthen defence & economic ties

Sri Lanka and Russia will work towards boosting bilateral trade up to USD 700 million, with increased cooperation on the cards in areas of counter-terrorism, oil exploration and tourism infrastructure development, the two countries’ foreign ministers said.

In a joint press conference held in Colombo today, Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov announced a number of informal agreements reached between the two countries. Lavrov, who began his diplomatic career at the Soviet Embassy in Colombo in 1972, is on a two-day official visit to Sri Lanka.

Chief among the agreements announced today is a decision to expand bilateral economic engagement in order to meet a USD 700 million trade target set in 2017 during an official visit to Moscow by former President Maithripala Sirisena. (For comparison, total bilateral trade turnover in 2018 stood at USD 388.9 million).

“We have agreed to pay extra efforts to boost the trade to USD 700 million,” said Lavrov.

In another throwback to the Yahapalana Government, Gunawardena said defence cooperation between the two countries is “active and robust” under the Military Cooperation Agreement signed in September 2018 in Moscow.

Counter-terrorism figured prominently in talks between the two foreign ministers.

“Sri Lanka and Russia will further expand counter-terrorism cooperation through strengthened linkages between the relevant authorities in the respective countries,” said Gunawardena.

Lavrov, meanwhile, said the Russian government is “paying extra attention to revitalising counter-terrorism efforts”, and expressed his support to the Sri Lankan leadership as it “tries to identify and hold accountable” those responsible for the “horrible attacks that took place last year.”

Lavrov also assured continued Russian assistance in military hardware procurement.

“We have supplied and will continue to supply arms and equipment the Sri Lankan army needs to effectively fight off its enemies,” he said.

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In terms of economic ties, both ministers acknowledged increased tourist arrivals from Russia, from 64,497 in 2018 to 86,549 last year, owing in large part to direct flights to Colombo (three a week) facilitated by Russia’s national carrier Aeroflot.

“We also discussed the potential for greater Russian investments in the hospitality sector,” said Gunawardena.

The Russian Foreign Minister, too, called for closer ties between his country and Sri Lanka’s business community.

“We know Sri Lanka is keen to receive our support in the areas of hydrocarbon exploration and building tourism infrastructure. For these to take shape, we need to establish more direct contact with the [Sri Lankan] business community,” he said.

Lavrov then invited his counterpart to send a business delegation to the St Petersburg International Economic Forum to be held in June this year and to the Eastern Economic Forum scheduled for September.

Both ministers also emphasised the importance of continued engagement with regional organisations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Other agreed areas of cooperation, according to Gunawardena, include agriculture and the food economy, fisheries, water management, technical and vocational education, trade and investment, counter-terrorism, science and technology, and renewable energy. The importance of the Indian Ocean region to global trade and commerce was also discussed.

The two countries thanked each other for standing up for their respective interests in various international fora.

“We are thankful for Sri Lanka’s support for the initiatives we promote at the UN General Assembly,” said Lavrov.

“I take this opportunity to extend Sri Lanka’s deep appreciation to the Government of Russia for is unequivocal support for Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Gunawardena.

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