‘Professional’ agitation pushes Govt. into discussing ETCA
Government is to enter into a wide consultative process with professionals, Business community and trade unions before finalising the proposed Economic Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India, aimed at exchanging trade services including labour, between the two countries.
For this purpose Government has agreed to set up a joint working committee comprising representatives of 45 professional bodies including doctors, engineers, architects, IT professionals and nominees of Business Chambers.
The move came a day after an estimated 8,000 professionals including medical personnel took to the streets, threatening to initiate trade union action if Government failed to consult them.
Representatives of professional bodies on Friday were summoned for a meeting with the Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade, Malik Samarawickrama.
M.r Samarawickrama, one of the chief negotiators of the proposed agreement, told the Sunday Times that the joint committee will be formed by March, and the views of all concerned parties will be taken into account before finalising the agreement.
“We have now decided to invite all the concerned parties to discuss their concerns and proposals. While we negotiate with India over this agreement, we will also keep the local Business Chambers and professional bodies informed of developments, but so far nothing has been finalised,” he said.
Another meeting with the representatives has been fixed for next week to finalise the committee.
Professional organisations have been mobilising opinion over widespread concerns on the impact of the proposed agreement. Among the main concerns have been in the areas of IT, marine services and ship-building industries, which would be initially opened to Indian professionals, followed by other areas.
Engineer Gamini Nanda Gunawardena, who represented the United Professionals Movement (UPM) at the meeting with Mr Samarawickrema, said, “The meeting with the minister was a good step to set the common ground for healthy discussions where we can bring our professional expertise for the country’s benefit.”
Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) President, Dr Anuruddha Padeniya told the Sunday Times that, at their meeting with the minister they had raised the issue of lack of proper regulatory measures and maintenance of standards for professionals and their activities, especially in a situation facing issues of a foreign trade agreement with another country.
The Computer Society of Sri Lanka, the apex body representing the IT professionals, has called for proper ‘controls’ and ‘safeguards’ in view of the proposed agreement, where loss of employment is one of the main concerns.
However, State Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs, Niroshan Perera told the Sunday Times that, “Government is looking for ways to attract new investments from abroad, where we can share their expert knowledge and create more job opportunities for the locals.”
“I have put forward a proposal to be included in the agreement where a foreign company is bound to employ a certain percentage of locals if it is recruiting foreigners.
These types of special arrangements are being implemented in other countries where special clauses are in place for trade services and human resources including labour,” he said.
He said the Government intends to finalise the agreement by midyear.
Sri Lanka is India’s largest trade partner among South Asian Associaition for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries with bilateral trade amounting to US$ 3.23 billion.