Colombo, March 13:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said cooperation among South Asian nations would be of huge benefit to all members and pushed for India and Sri Lanka to ink the long-pending Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
Addressing the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, the prime minister also said that India’s large economic size should not be a cause of worry as a stable and peaceful neighbourhood is needed for development and progress.
Addressing the business persons — including those from India, Modi, who arrived here Friday morning, said economic cooperation “is often the locomotive that gives momentum” to a relationship.
“There are many in India who would argue that India is too large to need her neighbours. There are many in our region who worry that India’s economic size will hurt them. I disagree with both views. For one, we all need a stable and peaceful neighbourhood to concentrate on national development,” he said.
Modi said the South Asian region is rich in resources and comprises a large market, and cooperation among members would be of huge benefit to all.
He said “size is no constraint to beneficial partnerships if we use our strengths and seize our opportunities” and cited the example of cooperation with Bhutan in hydropower and with Nepal in manufacturing exports.
Modi said with the coming of the NDA government in last May, a “transformation” has been unleashed in India.
“Last quarter, India was the fastest growing global economy. We are confident that we can grow even faster…The world’s engagement with India is at a new level. But, the first claim on us should be that of India’s neighbours,” he said and added. “India will do its part for the region.”
He said India will work to make trade smoother and invest in regional connectivity.
“As a friend and neighbour, we attach the highest importance to Sri Lanka’s economic progress,” he said and cited Sri Lanka’s great strengths including education, skills and peace.
He said despite Sri Lanka’s exports to India having grown 16 times there are concerns about the huge trade imbalance.
Modi said India is prepared to work with Sri Lanka to address concerns.
“I want balanced growth in trade. We will try to make it easier and smoother for you to access the Indian market. That is part of my philosophy of ease of doing business in India. Our agreement on Customs cooperation is a step in that direction,” he added.
He said India has Free Trade Agreements with ASEAN and others countries and added that India and Sri Lanka “should move boldly to conclude a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement”.
The CEPA has been in the works for several years but negotiations have proved futile. The Sri Lankan services sector has voiced apprehensions over perceived advantage it handed to India.
He said the $1.6 billion that India has provided in development partnership has helped rebuild and upgrade infrastructure in Sri Lanka.
India offered a fresh Line of Credit of $318 million for the railways sector. The Reserve Bank of India has also agreed to provide Central Bank of Sri Lanka a currency swap arrangement for $1.5 billion.
“We should engage more,” Modi said. IANS