Sri Lanka PM’s India visit to galvanise ties

RANIL

Barely a month after winning parliamentary elections, Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe touches down in India on a three day visit beginning September 14. Mr Wickremsighe’s visit caps months of intense high-profile interactions between the top leaders of the two countries that included visits by President Sirisena to India and PM Modi’s landmark trip to Colombo.  

The two sides will be looking to impart a fresh momentum to their ongoing negotiations for a free trade area. Issues relating to fishermen trespassing in each other’s territory and Sri Lanka’s progress on reconciliation after decades of civil war are also expected to figure in discussions.

Ahead of the visit, Sri Lanka released 16 Indian fishermen as a goodwill gesture. The two sides usually release fishermen ahead of high-level visits to signal diplomatic cooperation. Sri Lanka had ordered the release of 86 Indian fishermen in March ahead of Mr Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka. The two countries are expected to discuss the sensitive issue of regular arrests of fishermen by both sides.

The CEPA has been projected as a potential game-changer in transforming and upgrading economic ties between the two countries. But some issues are stalling progress on the deal. Sri Lanka’s Minister of Strategic Development and International Trade Malik Samarawickrama has said that the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) would not be part of the agenda in New Delhi. The issue has taken a backseat after the opposition in Sri Lanka claimed that entering into CEPA with India would be detrimental to Sri Lanka. The issue had gained momentum when PM Modi had visited Sri Lanka in March and had spoken about how Sri Lanka should not be left behind economically and that it is in the interest of the country to have a CEPA with India and reap the benefits. Bilateral trade between the two countries is estimated to be  US$7.5 billion. A free trade agreement between the two sides would not only improve bilateral trade between the two countries but also improve regional connectivity and trade in South Asia. India hopes that Sri Lanka would fast-track negotiations and sign the CEPA at the earliest. Sri Lanka, on its part, will have to balance its domestic concerns and re-energise its relations with India simultaneously.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has finalised its report on the war between the government and Tamil Tigers, which will be brought up at the regular session of the UNHRC beginning in Geneva this week. The report was supposed to be presented in March but had been delayed after President Maithripala Sirisena and Mr Wickremesinghe asked for more time to give their inputs on a domestic reconciliation mechanism and accountability. Mr Wickremesinghe is expected to explain the progress made on this matter to PM Modi.

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