The Sri Lankan government’s plan to enter into an Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India, which has stirred a lot of controversy in recent weeks, was torn to bits by speakers at a public forum on the issue organised by the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) at its auditorium [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

ETCA more detrimental than beneficial to Sri Lanka, professionals say

Economic benefits or political tool?

The Sri Lankan government’s plan to enter into an Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India, which has stirred a lot of controversy in recent weeks, was torn to bits by speakers at a public forum on the issue organised by the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) at its auditorium on Wednesday. Unfortunately there were no speakers to support ETCA and present the other side of the argument which was a major flaw at the event. Speaker after speaker (five in all) rejected the plan on the grounds, among other issues, that it was ill-conceived, would jeopardise Sri Lanka’s standing in the international stage particularly in the field of IT and that local medical expertise was far better and ahead of anything that India can offer.

The focus was mainly on the question of the provision of services/labour and what India would provide and probably force on Sri Lanka, as one speaker pointed out, adding that it would be difficult for Sri Lankans to get jobs, even on a reciprocal basis, there. Opening the discussion, Economics Prof. Sumanasiri Liyanage, from the University of Peradeniya, said he believed the argument behind trade liberalisation that it would be beneficial to all parties who engage in trade (one of the arguments put forward in the ETCA process) agreements is a totally flawed (theory) and doesn’t work that way.

Pointing out that no what knows what ECTA is all about (as it appears to be secretive), he said nevertheless one needs to discuss it since the Prime Minister has said the proposed agreement would be signed as early as the middle of 2016. “One can clearly see that this is not an economic decision that is taking place; it is basically a political one to appease India.”
He said firstly the two countries need to discuss the issues arising from the 1998-2000 Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the countries. “What are the issues, have we sorted out these problems? We need to resolve these before we discuss ETCA,” he said. Since the FTA came into operation there has been a wide trade gap between the two countries and as such one should not enter into a new agreement until ‘we’ resolve old issues, he added.

In a more fiery presentation laced with humourous anecdotes, Dr. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan from the Economics Department of the University of Colombo and a former Transport Ministry Secretary, asked whether Sri Lanka has a strategic plan (to reap the benefits with India) or would the country open the floodgates to India.

“Do we have a ‘win India’ strategy? My view is that we are jumping blindly into this agreement,” he said pointing out to past experience where the Indo-Lanka FTA has shown no significant gains for Sri Lanka. “Our gains have in fact been nullified in specific areas in India like Vanaspathi and copper exports. In marble and granite exports, a minimum floor price was imposed to hurt Sri Lankan exports. In the case of fresh fruits and tea, among other products, there was excessive time in lab testing/constraints,” he said emphasising the delaying-tactics used to make it difficult to export certain products to India.

He too agreed that Sri Lanka needs to resolve festering issues in the FTA before moving into another agreement with its giant neighbour. ”We saw how Indian interests extended to the Trincomalee port with the IOC taking over the tank farm and now, its entry via the Sampur power plant. With such intentions should we not be suspicious of India? If the agreement is for India’s benefit, Sri Lanka will be ruined,” the economics don said. Architect Nalaka Jayaweera, who at a previous event last year to debate the proposed ETCA was also critical, urged the need for a proper legal system to ensure professionals planning to get jobs in Sri Lanka follow legally creates structures like what is prevalent for doctors and accountants. In the meantime, he said, India is learnt to have requested that the current laws (which provides loopholes for entry of professionals) should not be changed.

Lasantha Wickremasinghe from the Society of IT Professionals, said the government has laid out a vision for IT with a target of $5 billion in export revenue, creating 200,000 jobs and 1,000 startups by 2022. ”Some people say there is a shortage of IT graduates but this is not true. We have enough to meet the demand now and in the next several years,” he said asking why IT was selected among services that India could provide even though Sri Lanka has enough to meet the demand.
“If ECTA is implemented, IT wages will reduce (as cheaper labour would be imported from India), and IT (as a sector) would be less attractive here. It will also tarnish Sri Lanka’s image as a centre of excellence and Sri Lanka will lost its state as a niche (software development) centre for investors in this field,” he warned. -(Feizal)

SL doctors’ union to complain to UN against ‘bullying’ by India; urges deportation of Delhi’s envoy

Sri Lanka’s powerful union of state sector doctors said on Wednesday it was planning to complain to the UN General Secretary against bullying tactics by India in forcing an economic agreement on Sri Lanka, “I have got approval from the council (of the Government Medical Officers
Association- GMOA) to write to Mr. Ban Ki-moon and complain that India is abusing Sri Lanka (in the proposed trade and services pact),” GMOA President Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya told a public discussion on Wednesday on the controversial Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) proposed with India.
Speaking at the event organised by the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS), he said Sri Lankan doctors have better skills and knowledge than Indian doctors. “There is nothing to learn or gain in knowledge from Indian specialists,” he said reiterating that India would gain far more than Sri Lanka in the proposed pact.Strongly criticising recent comments by the Indian High Commissioner Y.K. Sinha who had lambasted the joint opposition over their opposition to ETCA, he said the Indian envoy should be deported. “The Indian High Commissioner thinks he is like a Governor. He can’t control our parliamentarians or political parties. He should stick to diplomatic protocols. If we are to maintain our dignity, we have to deport him,” the outspoken GMOA Chief said nodding his head, at this point, to seated-in-the-audience Prof. G.L.
Peiris, former Minister, who was also one of those who annoyed the Indian envoy over the former’s anti-ETCA stance. Dr. Padeniya, who has incurred the wrath of the present government over various issues, said Indian doctors who were here earlier didn’t possess the required qualifications. “We tried to bring in foreign specialist registration guidelines but this has been held back. There are temporary registration clauses by which foreign doctors can be employed here.”
However, he warned that, while Indian doctors make use of a loophole in the law to practise here the Indian Medical Council will not allow any foreign doctor, not even an Indian with a foreign passport to practise there.
Some years back there were 184 Indian doctors in four major private hospitals. Now there are nine Indian doctors. One cabinet minister died after he underwent a wrong operation by one of these doctors. The doctor fled, he said, recalling these events to drive home the fact that Sri Lankan medical specialists are far better qualified than their Indian colleagues.
He said under the terms of trade with India, Sri Lanka is suffering from an “escalating disadvantage”. “At least we should maintain the current escalation level, not allow it to increase. We are losing and there is an escalating loss. Who pays? We have to train our kids to prepare them to pay off this debt,” he added.
He emphasised the need to safeguard national interest and national security in any agreement with another country, adding: “We have nothing to learn from India”.

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