July 7, 2017
The Global Ceylon Tea Party celebrating the 150th anniversary of Ceylon Tea got underway on 6th July with the first party in the Pacific region being held in Canberra at the Sri Lanka High Commission.
Specially identified Tea businesses, Tea traders, travel writers & firms and selected academics, officials, diplomats were invited to this unique event.
June 14, 2017
On 2nd May 2017, in a historic move, the Cabinet of Ministers of the Government of Sri Lanka approved Sri Lanka’s first National Reconciliation Policy.
The process for developing the National Reconciliation Policy was initiated in September 2015 by the Office for National Unity & Reconciliation (ONUR) chaired by Former President Her Excellency Madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
After a one-year comprehensive consultation process with multiple stakeholders including Government officials, ministries, departments, members of provincial councils, civil society, academia, and experts and grass-roots activists, the National Reconciliation Policy was submitted by His Excellency President Maithripala Sirisena in September 2016 to Cabinet of Ministers for discussion. In his accompanying note to the Cabinet, His Excellency stated that the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) had drafted the National Policy in a “manner that reflects that reconciliation is a whole-of-government effort and a multi-stakeholder endeavour.”
At this Cabinet Meeting in September 2016, Hon Minister Mano Ganeshan, Minister of National Coexistence, Dialogue & Official Languages, requested a few amendments to the document. Hence, the Cabinet directed the Secretary to the President to discuss these concerns with ONUR, who had prepared and drafted the National Policy on Reconciliation, and with Ministers and Secretaries of relevant Ministries and present a final version of the National Policy on Reconciliation. The Ministry of National Coexistence, Dialogue & Official Languages sent in amendments comprising paragraphs regards two matters, namely, language policy and coexistence. The rest of the original document as was prepared and drafted by ONUR was agreed to by the Ministry National Coexistence, Dialogue & Official Languages and other relevant Ministries.
Accordingly, ONUR prepared the final version of the National Policy on Reconciliation and it was this final version of the document prepared by ONUR that was adopted by the Government at the Cabinet of Ministers’ meeting held on 2 May 2016.
ONUR held further discussions and consultations with stakeholders and the revised final version of the National Reconciliation Policy & Coexistence was resubmitted as a joint Cabinet Memorandum by His Excellency President Maithripala Sirisena and Hon Mano Ganeshan, Minister of National Coexistence, Dialogue & Official Languages, to the Cabinet of Ministers on 2 May 2017 for adoption.
The National Reconciliation Policy declares that will “serve as the State policy on reconciliation” and “provide direction to the process of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka.” Further, it says that it will “provide a guiding framework to all stakeholders working on reconciliation in order to achieve coherence in reconciliation initiatives.”
The National Policy on Reconciliation is set to fill a long-standing vacuum due to the absence of a consolidated National Policy on Reconciliation. The National Policy on Reconciliation will aim to satisfy the need of the country for an over-arching vision on reconciliation and a broad, coherent framework to steer and direct the process of national reconciliation. In this regard, it declares that, “Acknowledging that while several reconciliation initiatives are underway, there does not exist an expressed declared policy by the Government of Sri Lanka on the subject; hence this National Policy on Reconciliation aims to bridge this gap.”
This National Reconciliation Policy has laid down a set of “Policy Principles” which it defines as “A set of actionable principles and long-term goals that will form the basis for making rules and guidelines, and to provide overall direction to planning and development for national reconciliation. These include Equality, Human Rights, Justice and the Rule of Law, Transitional Justice, Inclusivity and Diversity, Sustainable Development, Civic Consciousness and others. The National Reconciliation Policy also lays down guidelines for stakeholders and actors implementing reconciliation programs and has identified the following as critical to it, namely, Conflict Sensitivity, Cross-Cultural Awareness, Victim-Centredness, Gender Responsiveness, Foresight and Innovation, Leadership and Sustainability, Efficiency and Effectiveness, Coordination and Complementarity and Clear and Consistent Communication.
The National Reconciliation Policy includes an Implementation Strategy which has stated as follows: “Mainstream the values defined in the National Policy on Reconciliation within government institutions and existing national initiatives through annual work plans; Develop a National Programme and Action Plan for Reconciliation; and Launch public awareness and education campaigns on the National Policy on Reconciliation and the National Programme and Action Plan on Reconciliation.”
May 26, 2017
- Australia and Sri Lanka have built a strong and enduring relationship since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1947. Underpinning this friendship are strong historical ties, common values and many shared interests – including a commitment to democracy, the rule-of-law, and support for a stable, liberal rules-based international order.
- Australia and Sri Lanka have achieved much together over the past 70 years. Our longstanding development partnership has helped alleviate poverty and build human capital. Our people-to-people links are extensive across all sectors of society – academia, media, culture, literature, science, sport, medicine, politics, commerce and law. Our close cooperation on security and defence matters has been particularly effective in countering people smuggling and enhancing regional security.
- Australia recognises Sri Lanka’s strong economic growth and considerable progress toward national reconciliation since the end of the conflictin 2009. Its economic reform agenda, deeper integration with the global economy and progress toward becoming an important Indian Ocean economic hub present new opportunities to expand the economic relationship.
- In recognition of the closeness of our bilateral relations and to further deepen our partnership, this Joint Declaration on Enhanced Cooperation, signed on the occasion of the State Visit by President H.E. Maithripala Sirisena to Australia, marks the 70th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. This declaration seeks to guide our enhanced bilateral partnership in coming years.
Security and defence cooperation
- As close neighbours, Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) members and trading nations, Australia and Sri Lanka mutually benefit from a peaceful and secure maritime domain. Both countries are committed to closer cooperation and engagement in the Indo-Pacific to help create a more prosperous and secure region.
- We will continue to work together to shape the future of the region and the broader global environment by supporting, reinforcing and strengthening regional norms and the rules-based order, including through forums, particularly IORA, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. We will enhance our dialogue on strategic policy matters, both bilaterally and through regional forums such as the Galle Dialogue and Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS).
- Australia and Sri Lanka will maintain our efforts to prevent people smuggling and to ensure a close working relationship between relevant agencies. Both countries commit to enhance police and legal cooperation on other transnational crime, including human trafficking and modern slavery, money laundering, narcotics smuggling and international terrorism.
- Australia and Sri Lanka are committed to ongoing defence engagement, particularly on maritime security. Our navy-to-navy links have been a highlight of the bilateral relationship. Both countries commit to explore additional, individual training opportunities and provision of expert assistance. Recognising our mutual interests in the Indian Ocean, both countries will continue to cooperate on search and rescue, and maritime safety through the Indian Ocean Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control.
- Australia recognises the importance of Sri Lanka’s human rights, reconciliation and transitional justice agendas to its long-term peace and prosperity. Australia will continue to stand with Sri Lanka on this journey, including through lending practical support for reconciliation measures.
- Australia and Sri Lanka are committed to harnessing the significant opportunities of greater trade and economic integration in the Indo-Pacific region. Both countries will also do more to expand bilateral trade and investment, particularly in agribusiness, energy, education, tourism, hospitality and mining.
- Both countries commit to explore the possibility of improving market access, trade promotion and investment facilitation. Australia will continue to support Sri Lanka by providing technical advice in support of trade facilitation reform and improving its business-enabling environment. This may include establishing a bilateral framework to expand the economic relationship.
- Both countries recognise new and growing opportunities for greater energy cooperation. Sri Lanka’s energy requirements are changing and Australia is a major global energy supplier. Australian private sector investment expertise in energy infrastructure holds potential to drive future economic growth in Sri Lanka.
- Australia and Sri Lanka recognise the opportunities for closer cooperation in the minerals and mining sector. Australia will help Sri Lanka map its natural resources and establish a sustainable mining sector under an exchange of letters between Geoscience Australia and the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment.
- Both countries recognise the importance of tourism to our national economies. As a major driver of economic growth, Australia will continue to assist Sri Lanka develop a sustainable tourism industry that generates widespread employment opportunities. Australia will continue to assist Sri Lanka promote investment opportunities in its tourism industry.
- Australia and Sri Lanka recognise our longstanding development partnership has made an important contribution to Sri Lanka’s growth and prosperity. Australia remains strongly committed to assisting the Sri Lankan Government achieve its inclusive development goals, including through developing skills and opportunities for small business, and encouraging greater participation of women in the workforce.
- Australia and Sri Lanka commit to explore opportunities for greater collaboration in developing Sri Lanka’s agriculture sector, in particular dairy and fisheries, including by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
- Australia and Sri Lanka commit to explore opportunities for enhanced collaboration in science, technology and innovation, in particular to address the prevalence of Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) in Sri Lanka through a Memorandum of Understanding between the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and the Presidential Taskforce on CKDu in Sri Lanka.
- Noting the regular occurrence of natural disasters in both countries, Australia and Sri Lanka commit to continued cooperation in disaster management, including through international development partners.
Education and people-to-people links
- Australia and Sri Lanka recognise the positive role of our extensive people-to-people links, which are the bedrock of our warm bilateral relationship. Australia’s large Sri Lankan community has made a significant contribution to many different sectors of Australian society and economy.
- Both countries recognise that overseas Sri Lankans, including those based in Australia, have the potential to make a significant contribution to Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process and future development. Australia and Sri Lanka commit to continue to support initiatives to encourage overseas Sri Lankans to contribute to Sri Lanka’s economic development.
- Our strong and growing education ties have boosted the human capital of both countries. Australia and Sri Lanka commit to enhancing cooperation in research and vocational training including through partnerships between our educational institutions, our development partnership and implementation of the New Colombo Plan. Both countries commit to enhance cooperation in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) to empower younger Sri Lankans.
- Sporting exchanges further enhance our bilateral relationship. Under the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding on Sports Cooperation, Australia and Sri Lanka commit to promote cooperation between professionals in cricket, basketball, swimming, volleyball, tennis, boxing, rugby, cycling, golf and baseball, as well as in sports integrity measures.
- Australia and Sri Lanka jointly decide to take forward enhanced bilateral cooperation in these fields through the Sri Lanka-Australia Senior Officials Talks; the Sri Lanka-Australia Joint Working Group on People Smuggling and Other Transnational Crime; official visits and exchanges in each direction.
Signed in Canberra on 25 May 2017.
May 23, 2017
President Maithripala Sirisena will undertake a state visit to Australia on 24-26 May 2017 at the invitation of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The visit takes place as both countries celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations this year.
During the visit, President Sirisena will hold bilateral meetings with Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrave and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on 25 May 2017. The Governor-General will host a State Lunch for the President
Following the meeting with Prime Minister Turnbull, a Joint Declaration on Enhanced Cooperation between Australia and Sri Lanka, is expected to be signed. A Memorandum of Understanding on a Cooperative Programme on the Epidemiology of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology, between the Australian Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation and the Sri Lanka Presidential Taskforce for Prevention of Chronic Kidney Disease is also to be signed. A Letter of Intent on Cooperation between Geoscience Australia and the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau of Sri Lanka would also be exchanged during the visit.
President Sirisena will also hold bilateral meetings with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton and Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten.
A Breakfast meeting with members of the Business community in Sydney will be held on 26 May for the President. President Sirisena will also meet with members of the Sri Lankan community in Canberra and Sydney, and is scheduled to visit the Centre for Genomics, Metabolomics and Bioinformatics at the Australian National University (ANU) and the Mount Majura Solar Farm.
President Sirisena’s delegation will include Minister of Tourism Development & Christian Religious Affairs John Amaratunga, Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva, Deputy Minister of Power and Renewable Energy Ajith P. Perera and Member of Parliament Harshana Rajakaruna.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
23 May 2017
May 16, 2017
Vesak celebrations at the Sri Lanka High Commission in Canberra commenced on Vesak Full Moon Poya Day with alms offered to the resident monks of the Canberra Sri Lanka Buddhist Vihara at the High Commission. On Saturday 13th May Vesak Bhakthi Gee were presented by the High Commission staff.
Saturday programme included blessings invoked by the venerable monks followed by Bhakthi Gee, where all staff of the High Commission took part.
May 11, 2017
The UN Day of Vesak Conference will be held in Sri Lanka with 1600 participants from 85 countries from May 12th to 14th in Colombo and Kandy.
Some 750 international participants are expected from 85 countries, according to the Conference Secretariat.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will ceremonially open the conference in Colombo and Nepali President Bidhya Devi Bandari will be the Chief Guest of the closing ceremony to be held in Kandy. President Maithreepala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and senior Cabinet ministers will also grace these occasions.
The Inauguration of the International Conference will take place on the 12th of Friday with the participation of the Chief Prelates of the respective Nikayas, Ven Maha Sangha, religious dignitaries including Sangharaja Thera’s from Theravada countries including Sri Lanka. The theme of this year’s conference is “Buddhist Teachings for Social Justice and Sustainable World Peace. The four main topics of the conference would be Social and Natural Justice in the Buddhist perspectives, Inter- Religious understanding for Common future for the humankind, Buddhist forum for Economics and Promotion of Cultural Tourism and International Buddhist MediaNetwork.
The second half of the Conference including closing ceremony will be held on Sunday (14th) at the Precincts of the Historic Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. A special exposition of the Tooth Relics of The Buddha will also be held in-line with the ceremony. Hon Minister of Buddha Sasana Dr Wijayadasa Rajapakse will conclude the academic sessions with a presentation of the Declaration of the Conference titled ” Mahanuwara Prakashanaya.” A special cultural pageant to mark the occasion under the guidance of Chief Prelates of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters and the DIyawadana Nilame will also be held to mark the closing the of conference.
Though the UN Vesak Day has a brief history of around 17 to 18 years the initial work originated as far back as 1950, where Prof Gunapala Malalasekera proposed at the conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists held in Ceylon that the Vesak Day should be officially recognized by the UN. However, it was only in 1999 that the then Minister of Foreign Affiairs the Late Lakshman Kadirgamar together with the support of 33 countries moved for the adoption of a resolution to Recognize the Vesak Day which the Birth , Enlightenment and the Parinirvana of The Buddha to be recognized internationally by the United Nations.
Ever since the adoption and ratification, annual celebrations of the UN Day of Vesak was held annually on 13 occasions in Thailand (11 ) and Vietnam (2) . At the annual celebrations held in Thailand last year the keynote address was delivered by Sri Lanka’s Minister of Buddhasasana Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe where he proposed to grant Sri Lanka the opportunity to host the International Conference and Celebrations in 2017.
May 1, 2017
The Sri Lanka High Commission commemorated the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and Australia by organising a blood donation on Saturday 29th April, in collaboration with the Red Cross Blood Service and the Sri Lankan community in Canberra. 29th April holds special significance as the date on which the first Commissioner of Australia to then Ceylon, Charles Frost, set up office in Colombo in 1947.
Over 80 blood and plasma donations were made at the Red Cross House in Canberra which will help save approximately 270 Australian lives. The donors included staff of the High Commission, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Sri Lankan community in Canberra.
High Commissioner Skandakumar was joined by Member of the ACT Legislative Assembly Suzanne Orr and Assistant Secretary/ South Asia Branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Andrew Collins to cut a specially designed cake prepared by Savitri Lecamwasam for the occasion.
Speaking on the occasion, Ms Orr said “I congratulate the Sri Lanka High Commission for this unique way of celebrating the 70th Anniversary of our diplomatic relations, by donating blood as a gesture to symbolise the strong bonds of friendship and goodwill”.
High Commissioner Skandakumar recalled the anniversary celebration at Parliament House on Valentine’s Day, when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull hosted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, and paid tribute in particular to the strong people to people ties.
The High Commissioner said that “the blood donation programme was a goodwill gesture towards the wellbeing of the Australian people and acknowledged the near 150,00 Sri Lankans who have made Australia their home and contributed meaningfully to the economy.”
The High Commissioner thanked Janaka Welikala from the Sri Lankan community in Canberra who helped the High Commission in organising the programme, and all community members who participated by donating blood or plasma, and to those who contributed by providing refreshments to the donors.
Sri Lanka High Commission
Speech delivered by Hon Dr Harsha de Silva, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs at the ANU South Asia Research Centre on 29th March 2017, during his official visit to Australia
April 13, 2017
Australia South Asia Research Centre Seminar
29th March 2017
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
• Good afternoon
• Even though he is not here due to overseas travel, let me first thank Prof Premachandra Athukorala for inviting me to this prestigious Australia South Asia Research Centre here at the Australian National University for this public seminar.
• I bring greetings from the people of Sri Lanka.
• As you know, our two countries have a long history of friendship.
• In fact, this year marks 70 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and Sri Lanka. Throughout this period, we have worked closely and we look forward to even closer and deeper ties.
• This afternoon, I will speak on the Topic “Sri Lanka in Transition: Challenges and Opportunities from an International Perspective”.
• I will focus more on the political and economic angles of the issue and layout the plan of action we have drawn up to arrive at a successful outcome.
Let us contextualize the problem so that it is easier to understand
• While Sri Lanka is an ancient nation, with 2,500 years of recorded history, it is also a relatively young nation approaching just 70 years since re-emerging as a sovereign country following almost five centuries of European colonialism.
• So, the question really is; having leveraged on what we inherited at independence, how have we done in that 70 years?
• Unfortunately, not too well.
• Last week I was in Switzerland briefly leading our delegation at the UN HRC sessions.
• There, I was thinking about what the British newspapers said when we obtained independence from Britain in 1948.
• We were expected to become the Switzerland of Asia.
• So what went wrong? Many things, but let me focus on the politics.
• Both are small in population and geographic extent. Both countries are steeped in history with distinct religious and ethnic groups.
The Swiss Constitution recognizes four national languages; German, French, Italian and Romansh.
• Each language has many regional dialects.
• In comparison, Sri Lanka has 2 national languages; Sinhala and Tamil and English as the link language.
• When we think of Sri Lanka, we first think of Sinhalese and Tamils.
• However, when you think about Switzerland, you don’t think about the different ethnic groups or languages.
• Rather you think about its attributes such as excellence for precision as in watch making or fine chocolates, or even it’s sometimes dubious distinction as a haven for foreign capital.
• Switzerland did not happen overnight. It came together over several centuries.
• And, I am not saying what works for Switzerland will work in Sri Lanka either.
• But, the important point is that the people in Switzerland; the Swiss, as in other stable plural societies, have found a system or a formula for what works for them.
• In Switzerland it is indeed called the “magic formula”: a political agreement for sharing government seats among the coalition partners which brings a large measure of political stability.
• Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t come up with a formula to hold our nation together and we suffered a prolonged conflict that claimed many tens of thousands of lives.
• Mothers lost sons, children lost fathers, wives lost husbands in battle. Besides the battlefront mothers and daughters too were killed in otherwise peaceful towns and cities.
• After almost 30 years of armed conflict, the guns finally went silent after the defeat of the LTTE.
• However, we didn’t seize the opportunity to come together as a nation and heal our divisions.
• Unfortunately the then government embarked on a divisive and authoritarian trajectory misappropriating the goodwill and mandate of the people.
• Calls for genuine reconciliation were ignored dividing the nation even further.
• However, in 2015, Sri Lankans of all communities demonstrated to the world the power of our democracy by changing the government, long considered to be undefeatable, by the power of the ballot.
• On 8th January 2015, President Sirisena was elected the Executive President on a policy platform of strengthening democracy and governance, rule of law and accountability, transparency and most of all reconciliation
• In 2015, the leaders of the two main parties realized that, despite their differences on many issues, the county was at a critical point where only determined, unified and long term thinking and action, could ensure stability and prosperity and save our future.
• Therefore, for the first time in our contemporary history, the two main political parties of Sri Lanka; the UNP and the SLFP, agreed to come together to form a national unity government.
• The coalition of tamil parties; the TNA became the main opposition yet supportive of the unity government.
• Despite many doubts and stresses the unity government has prevailed and we have achieved much; even though our progress maybe dismissed by those who do not understand the enormity of the challenges that we faced and continue to face.
• Let me assure you that we will strive do our best during the time allocated to us by the citizens of Sri Lanka who reaffirmed our mandate for the second time at the Parliamentary elections in August 2015
• I would like to stress that preserving the integrity and the direction of the unity government, in the face of the many factions who want to see us fail, is a challenge not only for the political parties concerned, but for the nation of Sri Lanka.
• In this context, let me highlight some our successes on the political front:
• We repealed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which removed the two-term limit of the Presidency and adopted the 19th Amendment which re-introduced the two-term limit of the Presidency.
• In addition, the 19th Amendment
– reduced the powers and the term of the Presidency from 6 to 5 years
– established a Constitutional Council,
– restored Independent commissions
– recognized the Right to Information as a fundamental right (this is operational now)
– and recognized the Promotion of National Reconciliation and Integration as duties of the President among others.
• The Parliament of Sri Lanka, in April 2016, unanimously adopted a Resolution to prepare a draft Constitutional Bill for the consideration of Parliament.
• We believe this as to be the best opportunity for us to achieve genuine and sustainable reconciliation.
• We want to ensure that this Constitution, unlike its predecessors, would reflect the true aspirations of our people through a Parliamentary process and referendum.
• Much of the preparatory work for the new constitution has now been completed. The 6 sub comittees appointed to look into the various aspects of the constitution have submitted their drafts to be considered by the steering committee; hopefully soon.
• Besides the work on the constitution, we drafted, through a consultative and inclusive process, of a National Human Rights Action Plan for the next five years beginning from this year.
• We set up a permanent Office on Missing Persons, and allocated resources.
• We also became a party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
• We moved forward the formulation of the Policy and Legal Framework of the proposed Counter Terrorism Act in keeping with accepted international practices.
• We restored the freedom of the press, ended censorship and invited exiled journalists to return to Sri Lanka.
• For a government in office for less than 2 years, since August 2015, this is a significant amount of achievements.
• In addition to delivering on our promises to the people at home, let me give you some background on the international processes we have undertaken to restore our credibility and reputation as a responsible member of the international community.
• The unity government ended the previous government’s policy of isolating itself from the international community and entered into a more proactive engagement with the world.
• I refer particularly to the UN Human Rights Council where repeated resolutions were brought against a non-responsive Sri Lanka on alleged violations of human rights during and after the conflict.
• We know from bitter experience that grievances or trauma that is left unaddressed doesn’t go away or are forgotten. They lie hidden until an opportunity presents itself for them to transform in to new cycles of grief or violence.
• So, If we fail to address grievances, we would be failing in our duty towards all Sri Lankans, to prevent a recurrence of conflict. Most importantly, we would be failing the victims and their families; be it Tamil or Sinhalese or Muslim.
• It is this realization that guided the government’s decision to co-sponsor the HRC Resolution 30/1 in October of 2015.
• However, this resolution and its contents have been seized by our critics to portray a misguided picture that the international community is out to take revenge from the Sri Lankan military for defeating the ruthless LTTE.
• Let me take a few minutes to explain.
• The Resolution addresses the Government’s four pillared approach of truth, accountability, reparations and non-recurrence.
• The content of the Resolution is based on commitments that we ourselves as a Government, made to our people, and proposals that we presented to the Council based on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission Report and the Paranagama Commission Report, both of which predate our assumption of office and advice of our own experts.
• By co-sponsoring the HRC Resolution 30/1 Sri Lanka reasserted our commitment to human rights and willingness to work with international partners in addressing issues of concern.
• As in any democracy, there are divergent views within the government in respect of the proposed judicial mechanism in the HRC resolution.
• Some of our critics have sought to highlight such differences while forgetting that despite this divergence of opinions, the government is united on the need for an independent and credible domestic mechanism to address the contentious issues.
• As a democratic Government, we will work out the architecture of such a mechanism in consultation with all the stake holders.
• At the adoption of the HRC resolution at the 34th session of the HRC on 23rd march 2017, Sri Lanka clearly stated that we are striving to establish ‘Sri Lankan Government-led processes’ within our Constitution with international assistance, engagement and support for the benefit of all our citizens, without discrimination.
• For those who may be wondering about what our critics have been portraying; the possibility of a hybrid court with foreign judges sitting in judgment; let me be quite clear that there is absolutely no possibility for such a scenario as reiterated by both the President and PM.
• Having said that, I would like to stress that at the end of the day we need to have a mechanism that is victim centric. And whatever we do, those who suffered; be it Tamil or Sinhala must feel that their pain has been genuinely reduced.
• As you would now appreciate the challenges we face in the political sphere, particularly in transitional justice, are many.
• But, taking a positive view, one can see the opportunities themselves embedded in these challenges.
• Therefore, successfully dealing with the challenges we face would help us seize the opportunity to create a win-win situation for all; a sustainable peace for all Sri Lankans.
• Let me now turn my attention briefly to the economic issues we face.
• At almost USD 4,000 per capita we are a lower middle income economy. But this figure hides the complex nature of the challenges we face not be caught in a middle income trap.
• The two major issues we face are (1) low revenue to GDP and (2) low exports to GDP. These two issues together and the entitlement and subsidy culture have created a situation where the Government is stressed to the limit.
• I don’t plan to go in to depth here, nor discuss the revenue issue; but will lay out the structure of the primary export problem we face sticking to the international perspective in this talk.
• In fact, if we are able to crack the export challenge, then it will anyway become easier to deal with the rest upon necessary reforms in SOEs and subsidies.
• To put the problem in basic terminology, Sri Lanka has been growing, but it has been hitting speed bumps because our exports have not been growing sufficiently.
• The reality is that our Exports to GDP fell from about 34% in 2000 to about 12.5% by 2015. An astonishing fact.
• With expanding Trade deficits CA deficits were not matched by Capital Account surpluses resulting in Forex reserves dropping sharply and Growth slowing down.
• In fact, after a debt-fueled post war growth bubble that registered 9 and XXX growth in 2010 and 11, the pace slowed down to 3.5 and 4.5 in 2013 and 2014. 2015 was 4.5 and 2016 expected to be around the same range.
• So periodically, we have been going in for IMF programs to address BOP crises
• Why? With the lack of focus on exports, or in other words an inappropriate incentive structure to drive investments in to exports in the last 10 years or so, what we find is that the low export growth is structural and that is there has been a serious lack of ‘new exports’
• This means that we had not ‘diversified’ enough.
• We have been stuck producing ‘low value’ products except for the ‘outlier’ in certain apparels. In fact, if not for this ‘outlier’ particularly the big 3; MAS, Brandix and Hydramani and a few other niche players, Sri Lanka would have been in much deeper trouble.
• To give an example; while Vietnam in the last 10 years had introduced 45 new products at $545/per capita SL had only introduced 7 new products at $5/per capita.
• Our export basket looks more typical of a poor country than a middle income country.
• It is less complex and not balanced out by service exports. 75% of the products are similar to what is produced in the lowest quintile of countries; by income that is normally low wage economies
• What this means is that Sri Lankan exports are quite vulnerable to competition and we could, with the exception of the ‘outlier’ subindustry we can get priced out if our cost of production continues to increase relative to others.
• Further; SL export basket is dominated by Buyer Driver products as opposed to producer driven products; meaning typically non-durables such as apparels and footwear etc as opposed to components for branded electronics or automobiles etc.
• Professor Athukorala has analyzed this issue comprehensively and brought to the attention of policy makers back home the need to urgently address the problem before it becomes critical.
• He and others have highlighted the need to attract FDI and establish branches of MN Enterprises to link SL with producer driven GPN.
• They have shown the need to move away from arms-length type sourced production relationships to more solid integrated relationships that are sustainable.
• To do any of this, we must first link up with the world.
• It is in this context I will now talk a little about what our plans are.
• Beyond the UN, Sri Lanka is once again integrating with the world guided by a strong democratic foundation and a balanced policy of international relations.
• Our focus is on Economic Diplomacy.
• In a world where even some of the major players seem to be moving towards protectionism, we will continue to strive towards greater trade.
• For us, to establish our presence in GPNs trade is paramount and we are of the strong view that Sri Lanka’s future lies in how well we integrate with the world and use our geo-strategic location to our advantage.
• In this context, we are repositioning ourselves to maximise our relationships with both our historic and new trading partners; both in the West and East.
• We are on track to regain the GSP + concessions from the EU that we lost in 2010, on human rights concerns.
• We hope to hear the good news by 15 May that will give 6,600 Sri Lankan products complete duty free access to the EU opening up brand new opportunities for investors to locate in Sri Lanka.
• Besides GSP+, we are currently discussing potential Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with several other countries.
• In particular, we are working towards finalizing the Economic Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India by 2017.
• The ETCA will enhance the scope of our existing India Sri Lanka FTA to extend freer movement of goods and also services with the added emphasis on investments.
• Fear mongering among some have made the progress slow, but let me emphasize that we will ensure that the agreement we finally enter in to will certainly be asymmetric and be beneficial to both Sri Lankan consumers and producers.
• And that we will ensure necessary safeguards.
• The ECTA will provide an impetus to the existing synergies and has the potential to benefit from the rapid growth of the five South Indian states, that is Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andra and Telengana which today accounts for and economy of nearly 500 billion dollars.
• We are also negotiating a FTA with China, but that is still in early stages.
• The first FTA to materialize will be the one with Singapore, which is mainly geared towards the provision of a level of comfort for the envisaged large investments in multiple sectors including services.
• I expect that this FTA will come in to force in the next few months.
• The other major area of discussion in terms of global integration is with that of China.
• In continuation of the historical role we have played in the Maritime Silk Route, Sri Lanka is supporting the One Belt – One Road economic initiative.
• Under this initiative we are currently negotiating to enter into an long lease agreement with China Merchant Port company to put in to use the USD 1.3 billion Hambantota port that is currently making enormous losses.
• In fact, the success will ultimately lie in the establishment of the proposed Industrial zone that would help us address the issues pointed out by Prof Athukorale and others in terms of linking up with producer driven GPNs.
Sri Lanka is in a way lucky.
• We have perhaps the most enviable geo strategic location advantage in the Indian Ocean.
• From our location in the Spice Routes as the half way point between the two great empires of Rome and China Sri Lanka possessed strategic geographical advantages in the ancient world.
• Exports of spices, particularly cinnamon, became an increasingly lucrative activity. During the period 13th-15th centuries, Sri Lanka’s position as a trade hub on the East-West maritime route had been established, as had its position as a gateway to India. Sri Lanka had direct commercial links with Malacca, and also with regions in India such as Gujarat and Bengal.
• However after 500 years of colonial dictates and thereafter post-colonial cold war concerns the global economic balance of power is once again shifting towards Asia.
• It is estimated that by 2030, Asia will surpass North America and Europe combined in global power based on GDP, population size, military spending and technological investments.
• Sri Lanka’s challenge is now to capitalize on our location and transform nation as the true hub of the Indian Ocean.
• We are focusing on defining the two development corridors across the country – this will be a focal area for investment by the public and the private sector.
• They will correspond to the two distinct halves of the country irrigated by the two monsoons.
• (1) The South-Western corridor will have as its major axis the proposed Kandy-Colombo highway linked to the existing Southern highway. This region has the strongest potential to link up with global value chains, because of its close proximity to the Katunayake airport and the Colombo harbour. This project envisages:
• Creating a Megapolis Development Authority to develop the entire Western Megapolis-an urban area of over 8 ½ million people.
• Colombo is one of the nicest cities in the region with emerging opportunities in real estate and leisure. We have hopes to transform Colombo into a uniquely Sri Lankan, modern, cosmopolitan city—the most livable city in the Indian Ocean region. This would involve integrated planning, transition to mass transit, transforming housing, enabling private investment and leadership, and strengthening governance.
• A brand new financial city centre that will be based at the new reclaimed land development project alongside the Port of Colombo. Under this scheme, a US$ 1.4 billion reclamation is now underway adjacent to the city of Colombo for the creation of a 560 acre Financial City, under English law, to fill the vacuum for offshore financial service between Singapore and Dubai.
• With the strong interest in utilizing the zones along the Southwest Corridor centered around the Colombo port and the Western Megapolis; logistics and industrial zone centered around the Hambantota air-sea hub and the North East corridor centered around the Trincomlee port development by investors from China, Korea, and Japan and also likely from India, we plan to create an export market focused on Europe, China, Japan and USA and the crescent of markets around the Indian Ocean.
• Among the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia there exists a fast-growing population currently of over 2 billion people. This combined market has the potential of 3 billion consumers by 2050.
• (2) The second North-Eastern development corridor will connect the Eastern Province and the North Central Province to Jaffna linking the Trincomalee Port City to the Rajarata.
For those who didn’t know, Sri Lanka is home to the second largest natural harbor in the world in Trincomalee; said to be one of the finest deep sea harbors in the world. We have now initiated action to develop the port cenetred the larger Trinco development zone. The proposed container terminal at the Trincomalee Port will serve trade in India’s east coast as well as Bangladesh and Myanmar.
• The government is working with India and Japan to develop Trincomalee with SurbanaJurong of Singapore already being contracted to draw up a city master plan.
• As touched upon earlier, we have recently inaugurated the 15,000 acre (50 square kilometer) ‘Sri Lanka China Logistics and Industrial Zone’ to become a serious player in producer driven global production networks.
• It was revealed at the inauguration that Chinese investors were ready to bring in 5 billion USD in investments in to the zone in just the next 3 years.
• Chinese investors have made significant commitments to invest equity in the Hambantota port and the Mattala international airport that the previous Government built.
• The economic cooperation with Japan is as important to us.
• Japan is once again also getting involved in several major infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka including Light Rail and expressways. The Japanese Prime Minister has also appointed a senior official to especially coordinate Japanese Sri Lanka Joint Comprehensive Partnership Programme that was entered in to last year.
• Before I conclude, let me say a few words about our bilateral ties.
• Australia is special to us as so many Sri Lankans have come to Australia in search of better opportunities, for themselves and their families. They; you, have worked hard and many of you have excelled in your chosen fields. You have adapted well and become part of the vibrant, multicultural landscape of this country.
• Australia is also a favoured destination for Sri Lanka students with over 5,500 Sri Lankans studying at Australian universities.
• Therefore, we welcome Australia’s support and cooperation at this important stage of our country’s history, a period of transition when we are striving to overcome challenges and seize opportunities.
• Thank you.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Harsha de Silva invites Australia to establish long term collaboration in area of natural resources and assist Sri Lanka with its first ever survey of mineral resources
April 5, 2017
The Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva, on a visit to Australia last week on an invitation extended by the Australian Government under their Special Visitor Program sought to utilise the expertise of Australia which is one of the world’s leading explorers of minerals and metals, to expand the investment opportunities in the mineral sector of Sri Lanka. The discussions on the mineral industry were among the several agenda items for the Deputy Minister’s visit which sought to develop collaborative and innovative relationships between the two countries. The Deputy Minister was following up on the discussions relating to the visit of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in February 2017.
The need for mapping of Sri Lanka’s mineral resources which has never been done was discussed during the Prime Minister’s visit. The Deputy Minister held discussions with officials of GeoScience Australia which is the repository of data on Australia’s natural resources. He pointed out that an island wide survey of Sri Lanka’s mineral resources is a prerequisite for Sri Lanka to utilise the potential of the mineral industry and get investors interested in establishing linkages from Sri Lanka to global production networks. GeoScience Australia responded positively regarding bringing Australia’s experiences and expertise to Sri Lanka and undertaking a needs assessment visit.
In Canberra, the Deputy Minister called on Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and the Minister for International Development Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells where a range of issues of bilateral interest and concern were discussed. Foreign Minister Bishop expressed support for the Government’s reconciliation efforts and conveyed Australia’s appreciation for Sri Lanka’s cooperation in combatting people smuggling. Both Ministers highlighted the contribution made by the Sri Lankan community in Australia and who possess expertise and skills that can be harnessed for development work in their country of birth.
In Melbourne, the Deputy Minister visited the Australian Nuclear Science Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and the Australian Synchrotron which is a world-class research facility that uses accelerator technology to develop scientific applications in sectors from medicine and nanotechnology to manufacturing and mineral exploration. The Deputy Minister invited the scientific leadership at the Australian Synchrotron to focus on finding root causes of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) which is affecting several tens of thousands, mainly farmers, in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka.
During discussions with Asialink at Melbourne University, the Deputy Minister reached an agreement to send teachers at Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte Maha Vidyalaya who are piloting Sri Lanka’s first ever “cloud smart classroom” on a tour to Australia to learn from Australian practitioners about applying technology in the classroom.
The Deputy Minister also met with officials of the Business Council of Australia in Melbourne and discussed a proposal to prepare a presentation to be shared with the top 100 Australian CEOs about the opportunities for investment in Sri Lanka. He also discussed expansion plans of Sri Lankan operations of KOOKAI, an Australian owned fashion label which has a significant presence in Sri Lanka.
During the visit the Deputy Minister had two speaking engagements where he delivered a public seminar titled “Sri Lanka in Transition: Opportunities and Challenges” at the South Asia Research Centre of the Australian National University in Canberra and a Roundtable Discussion at Asialink, Melbourne University with academics, INGOs, and business community.
Deputy Minister was accompanied by High Commissioner Somasundaram Sakandakumar and Consuls General in Sydney and Melbourne, Lal Wickrematunga and Prasanna Gamage to the meetings.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka
4th April 2017
April 3, 2017
A group of 25 officials from the Ministry of Finance were in Canberra for a week long Executive Training Program on Strengthening the Public Policy Making Process at ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy. The delegation was led by Deputy Secretary to the Treasury S.R. Atygalle and comprised 25 officers at the Director Level or equivalent, from sectors including the Fiscal Policy, Treasury Operations and Development Finance departments. The delegation visited the Sri Lanka High Commission with representatives from the Crawford School on 21 March and was hosted to dinner by High Commissioner S. Skandakumar.