Sri Lanka would become a ‘lonely island’ without free trade: Chinese Ambassador

As the debate on the merits of the Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) rages on, China’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka Cheng Xueyuan has warned that Sri Lanka could become an isolated nation if it does not pursue open trade policies.

“Trade liberalization and economic globalization would build Sri Lanka as a gem on the Indian Ocean; on the contrary, without them, Sri Lanka may only become a lonely island on the vast Indian Ocean.”

He made these comments while addressing the Opening Ceremony of the ‘Photo Exhibition of the 40th Anniversary of Shanghai’s Reform and Opening-up’ in Colombo recently.

He went on to say that Sri Lanka has benefitted immensely from its membership in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and is best placed to appreciate the value of free trade.

“Sri Lanka has acted as a regional trade center since ancient times, and just like China, Sri Lanka has benefited a lot from WTO and global trade rules. No other country could better understand the importance of upholding the free trade system than Sri Lanka.”

Sri Lanka’s Government has focused heavily on free trade over the past 3 years and signed an FTA with Singapore last year. However, this agreement has been met with fierce opposition by certain industry bodies and opposition politicians on the grounds that it will enable cheap, low quality goods to enter Sri Lanka hurting local producers as well as consumers, and that the acceptance of waste as a commodity under the FTA will make Sri Lanka Singapore’s dumping ground.

FTAs have also been planned with Bangladesh, Thailand and China, with Sri Lanka already having functioning FTAs with South Asian powerhouses India and Pakistan.

The Ambassador went on to invite Sri Lanka to take part in the inaugural China International Import Expo (CIIE) to be held in Shanghai in November to promote its exports.

“China welcomes Sri Lankan friends from all walks of life, including friends from Colombo, to attend this Expo, and promote Sri Lanka’s black tea, rubber, gems, textiles, spices and other featured products to the 1.3 billion Chinese people, bringing more fruitful results to the friendly relations and cooperation between China and Sri Lanka.”

China has rapidly risen over the past few years to become Sri Lanka’s sixth largest export destination with nearly $400 million of exports in 2017, while in the same year Sri Lanka imported nearly $4 billion worth of goods from China, which was second only to the value of its imports from India. China is also the leading source of Foreign Direct Investment for Sri Lanka.