The Government didn’t invite the private sector and professionals to participate in discussions on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India coinciding with President Mahinda Rajapaksa being elected to power in 2005.
Lalith Kahatapitiya, Chairman, KIK Group of Companies which exports electrical switchboards to India speaking at a CEPA seminar organized by the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) on Monday said that CEPA consultations began in 2002 with the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) getting the views of both the private sector and professionals.
This tripartite arrangement between the representatives of the public and private sectors and the professionals went on till end 2005 when consultations were stopped.
Rajapaksa was elected to power on November 15, 2005.
However the framework agreement pushed by the public sector didn’t see the light of day because of private sector intervention, he said.
Samantha Kumarasinghe, Chairman, Nature’s Secrets, a manufacturer of cosmetics in his speech said that in the context of the UN pressing for a war crimes probe on Sri Lanka, India which is interested in finalizing CEPA would exert pressure on GoSL to sign it in exchange of obtaining India’s support to fight against the UN recommendation.
He further said that Commerce Department Director General Gomi Senadhira had misled them by saying that the film industry was for CEPA. The proposed CEPA offers several concessions to the Indian film industry such as owning cinema halls and the reservation of cinema time to Indian films, according to Kumarasinghe.
He said that India’s interest in CEPA was to get a foothold in the island.
“When swarms of Indians find employment in Sri Lanka due to CEPA, causing unemployment among the youth here to rise, the country would then be ripe for another armed revolution,” he said.
That would also be an excuse to allow the Indians to militarily intervene here on the pretext of protecting Indians working in Sri Lanka, said Kumarasinghe.
Referring to the US-Mexico Free Trade Agreement (FTA), he said that was an agreement between a rich country and a poor country, with definite benefits to the latter as a result.
However in the case of the proposed CEPA with India, it was an agreement with a country whose people were more impoverished that that of Sri Lanka’s, thereby allowing them to gain more from CEPA than Sri Lankans.
It was a myth to say that India is a big market.
The fear was that if it goes through, Sri Lanka would be swamped by Indian labour in all spheres of work; professional, skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled because of India’s heavy unemployment numbers, some 56 million, compared to Sri Lanka’s 470,000.
It’s said that 30,000 Indians are working in Sri Lanka with valid visas.
Though it’s reciprocal, Kumarasinghe’s opinion was that considering Sri Lankans higher standard of living than that of the Indians, it would be difficult for them to find suitable jobs in India, whereas, comparatively speaking, it would be easier for the Indians to find jobs here because of the low wages they would demand.
OPA General Secretary Tudor Munasinghe said that regulation to ensure that standards are met in the event CEPA came into being won’t work because of corruption.
As a result, the OPA took a decision to oppose CEPA until the facts were placed before them. They also planned to mobilize their membership to get their consent also on this matter.
Participants also stressed the importance of having on board a Freedom of Information Act.
Meanwhile Kahatapitiya told this reporter that he individually would stand to gain if CEPA came through, but he was opposing it on a matter of principle.
CEPA is the next step towards expanding the current FTA that exists between the two countries that is limited to goods, to encompass services and investments as well.
Labourers To Managers
All seven copper industries operated by Indians had unskilled Indian labourers as their managers.
Rocket propelled grenade parts had been brought down for smelting by those companies that resulted in an explosion which caused one of the labourers to lose his sight-Former Board of Investment Additional Director General Dr. Bandula Perera
Landlocked Nepal has 46,000 mega Watts of Hydro-electric power which however cannot be exploited because its giant neighbour India does not allow them to do so-Institute of Engineers of Sri Lanka President Professor Ananda Jayawardena.