Sri Lanka professionals misleading public on India trade deal, govt says

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s government said professional and business lobbies opposing efforts to enter into an economic pact with India were misleading the public, since free movement of people was not even on the agenda.

Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade Malik Samarawickrama said the aim of the proposed free trade deals with India, China and Singapore is to get duty free access and expand markets for Sri Lankan businesses.

The first working draft of Sri Lanka’s version of the proposed Indo-Sri Lanka Economic and Technology Cooperative Agreement (ETCA) had been given to business chambers and professionals organisations to get their views, he told a news conference.

“We discussed the FTAs with all trade chambers and professionals especially with the GMOA (Government Medical Officers Association). We have even invited one of them to be in the negotiating team. We have been transparent. But misinformation is being spread by the GMOA.”

Samarawickrama said the government was being transparent in its negotiations which were being done in consultation with all stakeholders.

The GMOA has been lobbying against the ETCA saying it would lead to the island being flooded with Indian doctors and other workers, resulting in job losses and lower wages for locals.

“It’s not true we will allow foreign professionals to come,” Samarawickrama said. “So there’s no question of the salaries of locals going down.”

Minister of Local Government and Provincial Councils Faiszer Musthapha said Sri Lanka needs free trade deals with other countries to open up their markets for Sri Lankan goods and services.

“We have always maintained that there’s no way ETCA will allow foreigners to come and deprive people of jobs here. The allegation of job losses is baseless. It is wrong for professionals and business chambers to accuse us of favouring importing labour.”

Musthapha said the government has no intention of signing “secret agreements” and all trade deals will be done only with the approval of the people.

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Samarawickrama said negotiations with India on the ETCA does not include allowing free movement of people, known as ‘Mode 4’ under World Trade Organisation negotiating rules.

“Mode 4 means free movement of persons – it is not even being discussed under ETCA,” he said.

But he said the government aims to get access to new technology through the FTAs being negotiated.

“That’s the only way we can increase our base of professionals. We hope to attract technical colleges and institutions in other countries to build our skills base and bridge the country’s skills gap.”

Musthapha said: “We will not import labour. Rather we will get technology transfers to build our skills base.”

Existing investment regulations already allow for import of people with specific professional skills required by industries facing shortages in those skills, he said.

(COLOMBO, July 27, 2016)

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