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CEPA negotiations with India revived: a response


"Contrary to the opinion generated by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce praising the revival of the stalled CEPA negotiations, Mawbimalanka urges the Government of Sri Lanka to draw attention to matters beyond the realm of trade & mutual political goodwill.

We would like to point out that the CCC membership is made up of non-Sri Lankans & multinationals. Thus the CCC is dominated by large scale traders interested in only developing their trades. With only a few industrialists as members the voice of the trading community dominates quorums purely based on the advantages accruing to them & do not echo the voice of Sri Lanka.

The CEPA is more than just a bilateral trade agreement. With the inclusion of the service sector it translates to the influx of Indians into Sri Lanka in far greater numbers than is taking place already legally as well as illegally. The quantum of this growth clearly spells dangers that far exceed trade manipulations which is why Mawbimalanka membership is setting aside its individual trade opportunities to urge the Sri Lankan authorities to understand the dangers that is likely to result. We are not hiding behind patriotism banner as the CCC accuses, we are in fact patriotic enough to keep aside our own gains to be implore the Government not to proceed with signing of the CEPA agreement with India.

Trade statistics itself point out that despite the FTA in place since 2000 Sri Lanka has not benefited. Indian exports to Sri Lanka grew from USD1billion to USD2.9billion whereas Sri Lanka’s exports to India saw a miniature rise from USD500m to USD500m. Why would we then want to include Indian service sector & completely destroy Sri Lanka’s social framework? Whereas over 100 Indian companies have set up in Sri Lanka through BOI investments or with Sri Lankan local proxies how many Sri Lankan companies have had this opportunity in India? Majority of businesses especially the pharmaceutical industry has found to be sending sub-standard drugs to Sri Lanka. In the case of the Indian Oil Company the investment has meant India is repatriating % times the capital it invested. Why could these petrol sheds not been given to Sri Lankans?

Why is Sri Lanka knowingly allowing the repatriation of revenue from Sri Lanka & should there not be laws in place to ensure profits generated by retail sales are invested in Sri Lanka.

The crux of the argument we would like to highlight is that unlike the FTA, the CEPA endorses the entry of Indian labor into retail trade. Already with unemployment a key issue & one that is raised by graduates & non-graduates alike what would happen when Indians are allowed free access to work & live in Sri Lanka? Why would we want to ask Sri Lankans to go to India & work in India just to allow Indians to work & live in Sri Lanka? How can Sri Lankans be assured of employment in India when 327 million non-graduate Indians are unemployed & 4.8million graduates are unemployed? Leave aside finding employment how will Sri Lankans find living & shelter?

The current calls to use wisdom rests on the reality that agreements once entered into cannot be easily revoked & spells the need for careful assessment especially in the light of a foreign population growing in Sri Lanka endorsed by such an agreement.

With provisions available under the BOI & other such unilateral agreements in place why does Sri Lanka wish to commit hara kiri by signing such a bilateral agreement that would undermine our sovereign status in time to come.

There is much that India has been granted over the years unilaterally. Indians have visa on arrival for 30 days & most Indians making use of this facility end up engaged in employment. India however has not reciprocated this for Sri Lankans traveling to India despite an already operational trade agreement with Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has the right to withdraw this facility at any given time as it is a unilateral gesture but bilateral agreements are extremely impossible to revoke.

Do we want Sri Lanka to face what has happened to Bangladesh, Nepal & Bhutan? There are over half a million Indians illegally staying & working in Bangladesh. They do not pay taxes & moreover they send millions of dollars to India through illegal smuggling channels. Nepal with a population of 30million has 5million Indians already in Nepal legally & illegally. It is possibly taking to consideration these threats that Bangladesh has decided not to open its service sector to India. We would like to remind what happened to Nepal in 1989 when India demanded an agreement on unauthorized trade which was seen by Nepal as a flagrant attempt to strangle its economy. This resulted in a blockade of essential commodities & even caused an ecological havoc as the Nepalese had to use forest resources for energy since gasoline & kerosene supplies were denied via India. Similarly. when Nepal decoupled its rupee from Indian rupee, India retaliated by denying port facilities in Calcutta to Nepal.

When other SAARC nations are also cautious of tying bilateral trade agreements to Indian service sector, why would Sri Lanka wish to overrule caution?

Mawbimalanka wishes to simply ask why India is interested to press for the signing of the CEPA when Sri Lanka is a negligible market for India. The fact that India is overtly keen to lobby for the signing & implementation of the CEPA begs us to question any motive that may exist outside the trade framework which should spell caution for Sri Lanka.

Our appeal against the CEPA is strengthened by the fact that even without the CEPA so many Indians are working as top executives & technicians under present immigration & BOI laws & beckons us to ask whether any further agreements on a bilateral level is needed?

Mawbimalanka wishes to reiterate that bilateral agreements such as the CEPA where the Sri Lankan populace is likely to be affected calls for a broader discussion framework of Sri Lankans & their voice needs to be heard before signing any agreement based on miniscule advise given by a few trusted economists whose voice is not the voice of Sri Lanka. CEPA is more than a trade agreement & when a service sector is involved which translates to mean the possibilities of legalizing an influx of people from a country with a population of 1.21 billion what can this mean to a country with a population of just 20million?"

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