President in high stakes visit to India

  • Govt. and opposition leaders sound alarm on CEPA deal and other issues
  • Ranil says Sri Lanka asked India to open mission in Hambantota
By Our Diplomatic Editor

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is scheduled to go to India on Tuesday on a three-day state visit amidst warnings from both Government and Opposition leaders yesterday that he should not sign the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).

The agreement goes beyond trade in goods between the two countries to include services. It is said to be weighted heavily in favour of India.

An Indian ‘shopping list’, diplomatic jargon for what one country wants from another, early last week is reported to have indicated the implementation of CEPA, the opening up of Assistant High Commissions in Jaffna and Hambantota, credit lines for multi-million dollar contracts in Sri Lanka’s North for projects exclusively handled by Indian companies, and proposed constitutional reforms and devolution packages in Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa and Manmohan Singh to hold crucial talks

“President Rajapaksa has been bold enough to militarily defeat the Tiger terrorists. We know he will not sign this agreement that will lead to greater Indianisation,” Minister and National Freedom Front leader Wimal Weerawansa said yesterday.

“The CEPA has been formulated without a full study of past trade agreements with Sri Lanka. It can only bring economic gloom,” he told the Sunday Times. His erstwhile political colleague and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Somawansa Amerasinghe, said his party too was opposed to the agreement.

“This is not going to be just another bilateral trade agreement. Sri Lanka in the past has signed trade agreements with other countries, including India. But CEPA is truly a ‘comprehensive’ agreement which is not only limited to trade between the two countries, but also covers economics, politics and the culture of Sri Lanka,” he said.

Although CEPA has come up on a number of occasions during the past few years, few people have realized the adverse repercussions it might have. Asked whether he believed CEPA would be advantageous for Sri Lanka, the JVP leader said:

“CEPA is an agreement that is going to be imposed on a weak country by a strong one. Economically, politically, culturally, and militarily Sri Lanka is no where compared with India. It is the ‘Big Brother’ of the South Asia region. The Big Brother has often dealt with Sri Lanka within the context of its national interests. For example Indian involvement in Sri Lanka was not aimed at finding a just solution for the national question of Sri Lanka. India became the winner at the end of the day while the Tamil community fell victim to terrorism and deception,” Mr. Amerasinghe said

“Already there are more than 30,000 Indian citizens employed in Sri Lanka! When CEPA is implemented the situation will be worse. Particularly the computer software industry here will be hit within days,” he warned.

The JVP leader said CEPA could give the opportunity for India to restrict Sri Lanka's right to reach agreements with countries other than India. Hence CEPA would violate Sri Lanka's national sovereignty, he claimed.

Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe said CEPA was basically worked out by External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris when he was Minister of Export Development and International Trade in the previous UPFA government. He said the Government had “not told us anything” about CEPA and the Opposition was awaiting a statement by the Government.

He also said he believed that the opening up of an Indian diplomatic mission in Hambantota was an initiative of the Sri Lankan government and did not come from the Indian side.

The UNP’s foreign affairs spokesman, Ravi Karunanayake, said “there seems to be subtle pressure on the Government but we do not know what the actual position is. We want the Government to clarify it. We would like to see the agreement before it is signed. Then we can decide whether to support it or not. “

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